Tag Archive | lagos fiction

Chapter 4 – The Only One.

The next week was a busy one at the office. Hope and her team worked tirelessly to finish the engineering services drawings for a multi-storey building in Lekki.

“Aren’t you going to eat?” It was her mother, on Thursday night, hovering at the door to Hope’s bedroom in the five-bedroom duplex where they lived in Gbagada. Patience Alade was a tall woman, slim and well preserved for her age. At the moment, her face was touched with a worried frown as she watched Hope, still wearing her work clothes, collapsed across the bed in exhaustion.

“I’m not really hungry,” Hope replied. “I’m just tired.” What she really wanted was sleep. She’d been running around in the office all day juggling meetings with producing drawings. All that, combined with the drive home in bumper to bumper traffic, had ensured that right now, she could barely lift her arms.

“We put your food in a cooler in the kitchen. At least try to eat something.” Patience regarded her daughter. “You can’t keep working yourself like a machine? What if you were married? Would you come home like this – exhausted from work, unable to talk to or play with your children before going to bed.”

Hope sighed, wondering once again why she still lived with her parents. If she was very prudent, she could afford to rent a mini-flat like many of the single girls she knew. She had toyed with the idea many times, but she’d never gone through with it, because for her, independence wasn’t what it was to other girls. She had no interest in the stress that came with managing rent, Landlords, generators and all that. Plus, being free to have guys spend the night meant nothing to her, because she didn’t have time for guys anyway. After Charles, her work had become her life in more ways than one.

“I’m not married, mummy. I’m single, and I’m exhausted. I told you about our deadline at work.”

Patience sighed and started to say something but Hope interrupted before she could continue. “I might wake up later and eat, hmm. Tell Justina to leave the cooler on the kitchen counter.”

Her mother didn’t look happy. “You don’t have to do all the work in the office in one day. You have to start learning where to stop to continue another day. You’re too young to be living like this. Your mates…”

Hope blocked out the rest of the speech. It was the same one she was familiar with. “Your mates are married and are managing kids and careers…” and so on and so forth. She closed her eyes and faked deep breathing, hoping her mother would go away. The faking became real after a while, because she woke up to her morning alarm.

She pulled herself out of bed, still tired, her body feeling sore and achy. She was still wearing her work clothes from the day before, and she felt grimy. She stared at her reflection in the mirror, suddenly sad. This is really not life, she thought, undressing and going to the bathroom to prepare for another day at work. Her mother’s words stayed with her. ‘Your mates are married and managing kids and careers.’ She’d thought she’d be married too by this time. In those heady days of her relationship with Charles. She’d hoped, prayed, believed that by the time she was twenty-seven she would have his rings on her finger and his child on her arm.

But life never worked out according to those plans. She prepared for work quickly. Shower, dress, makeup, downstairs to make a sandwich and steal an apple from the fridge. It was still dark outside when she finished, and even Justina, the housegirl, was not yet awake. Hope noticed that there was no cooler on the counter. Her mother had rightly ignored her and probably put the food in the freezer, at least it wouldn’t waste.

Outside, the gateman called out a greeting as she made for her car, which was parked by the fence beside her mother’s SUV.

“Aunty Hope. Good morning o.”

“Good morning, Ayuba.”

“Make I open gate now?”

Hope shook her head. “I’m not ready yet. I’ll horn.”

He went back inside his gate house and Hope tossed her bag and things in the car. She entered the driver’s seat and said a quick prayer, then started the engine. After a few minutes she hit the horn and watched as Ayuba rushed to open the gates.

“Another day,” she muttered under her breath. “God, please let it be a good one.”

 


 

It wasn’t. At least not in the morning anyway. Her car stopped in traffic, twice. And at some point, even though she pressed down hard on the accelerator, it just kept slowing down. It took multiple times switching the engine off and on and a few curses from other motorists to get the car to the office.

It was Friday, and because they had submitted their pressing deliverables the day before, it wasn’t looking to be a busy day. A few meetings, checking and replying emails, and close to an hour spent on her daily crossword game. The day went by very fast and before long it was close of business. Her mechanic had come in the morning to pick up the car, promising to return it in a few hours, but at five in the evening she was still waiting.

“Why not just take a cab home,” Agnes suggested. She had redone her makeup and looked more than ready for an evening out with her date, some guy she’d just met. “Your mechanic can bring your car to your house tomorrow.”

Hope shook her head, an image of the gum-chewing mechanic with his skinny jeans and eyes that filled with delight whenever her car had a fault filling her head. “That one will use my car for public transport. He’ll do two trips to Ibadan before he returns it.”

Agnes laughed. “Okay o!” Her phone was ringing. “That’s Kola. I’m sure he’s here.” She picked up her bag. “See you on Monday, love.”

“Yeah. Have fun.”

Hope waited about thirty more minutes, then called the mechanic, who promised to have the car ready in another hour. She watched as people shut down their systems and left the office. She had nothing better to do than idle on the internet. It was depressing, on a Friday night, to have nothing to do. No date, no nothing. Just an unreliable mechanic and a problematic car.

An hour later, she called the mechanic again. Another hour, he begged, detailing all the names of things he’d had to adjust or fix in the car. Hope cut the call and decided to check the movies showing. At least she could while away time at the galleria instead of waiting at the office until she was the only one keeping the security men from locking up.

She found a movie she hadn’t seen and took a cab over to the mall, buying a ticket and salt popcorn before going in to watch almost two hours of passable romantic comedy. The cynic in her couldn’t help rolling her eyes at the happy ending and the whispered ‘awwws’ from other girls in the dimly lit cinema.

Outside, she checked her phone. There were no missed calls. Meaning that the mechanic hadn’t finished. She called him again and waited as the phone rang and rang on his end. He didn’t pick up. She tried again and the number was switched off.

She cursed under her breath. Now, she would have no choice but to take a cab. She stalked down the stairs, annoyed. The floor below the cinema floor had a number of stores selling shoes, apparel and such. She would have walked past them on her journey towards the next set of stairs if she hadn’t seen Charles emerging from one of them.

He saw her and stopped, letting the door swing shut behind him. Hope wanted to keep walking. She wasn’t really in the mood to talk to him. Would it be rude if she just walked past? Probably. She slowed her pace and he smiled, his eyes teasing.

“You look angry,” he said, moving from the door of the store to stand in her path. He was wearing a suit, dark grey, with a darker shirt beneath, and of course, he looked good enough to eat. His gaze flicked past her to the crowd of moviegoers trickling down the stairs, then back to her. “Was the movie that bad?”

Hope shrugged. “No, not really.” She gave him a thin smile, resisting the urge to ask what he was doing here. She didn’t want to lengthen their encounter for any reason. “I’m on my way home,” she said, starting to edge past him.

“Why the rush?” His eyes held hers, still smiling, still teasing. “It’s Friday night. Nobody has to be home early on Friday night.”

Her eyebrows went up. “How about married people? With wives waiting for them at home, and children.”

He was quiet for a moment, a small sad half-smile playing on his lips. “It’s funny that I haven’t seen you in years, and yet, in a month we’ve run into each other thrice.”

Hope almost clapped at the deflection. “Funny is not the word I’d use. Irritating, maybe.”

For some reason, he found her statement funny, laughing out loud, the sound so familiar and full of memories. “Look,” Hope said, angry with herself for wanting to succumb to the insane desire to dive headfirst into those memories. “I have to go…”

“Are you driving?”

“No, I’m getting a cab,” she replied with a frown, moments before she realised that she had just given him an opening, which he didn’t hesitate to take.

“I’ll drop you,” he said, as if it was a done deal.

“No!” Hope exclaimed. “No.” She had no intention of sharing a car with him all the way back to the mainland.

“Why not?”

She chuckled, and even to her ears the sound was mirthless and bitter. “You are asking stupid questions,” she snapped, walking past him.

He followed her downstairs. Outside, once they were past the burly security men at the entrance, he caught her hand.

“Hope.”

She pulled her hand from his. “What?”

“I’m sorry, you know. I really am.”

There was a torrent of tears threatening to burst from her eyes, but she held them in. “It’s fine,” she said with a shrug. “I moved on a long time ago.”

Charles nodded. “I’d really like to take you home. I won’t feel settled watching you get in one of these cabs. It might not be safe. Just let me, as an old friend.”

‘You were never my friend.’ The words hovered on the tip of her tongue, but she refrained from saying them out loud. A cab drove by, slowly, the hopeful driver unmindful of the cars honking behind him as he searched for a passenger.

“Come on,” Charles said. He looked hopeful, with that hint of sadness she’d seen in his eyes before. “You don’t even have to talk to me if you don’t want to.”

Hope drew a deep breath. “Okay,” she said. “Where’s your car?”
 


 

The traffic on the bridge had reduced somewhat, enough that instead of bumper to bumper traffic they could move at a steady crawl. Inside the coolly air-conditioned confines of Charles’s car, the same range rover he’d driven to Greg Abudu’s party, they were both silent, the only sound the low hum of the engine and barely audible voices from the call-in program on the radio.

If it had been anybody else, Hope would have felt obliged to make conversation, but this was Charles, she didn’t owe him anything but resentment.

“So how long have you worked at Madueke and Makinde?” he asked, breaking the silence.

She snorted, her eyes going to his fingers on the wheel of the car. They were long, graceful and tapered, with the nails neatly filed, buffed, and she noticed now, visibly missing a ring. “Where’s your wife?” she asked bluntly, ignoring his attempt at small talk.

He sighed, beating his fingers against the wheel in series of light taps. “She left,” he said, after a moment. His eyes skipped to hers and his lips lifted in that small sad smile again. He turned back to the windscreen. “So you still live with your parents?”

She turned away from him, towards the window, still reeling from what he’d said. What did he mean ‘she left.’ Was he no longer married? And if he wasn’t… She closed her eyes. Well, even if he wasn’t, it didn’t mean he’d changed from the selfish asshole who broke her heart.

“You know how it is,” she said calmly, pretending that he hadn’t dropped a bombshell in her lap. “My parents are not the type to let me out without a ring on my finger.”

His gaze flicked to her again. “That might happen sooner than they expect,” he said with a quiet smile.

Hope frowned, the cynic in her convinced that he was dropping lines to make her let down her guard, to make her think that some part of their relationship was salvageable. Well, she wasn’t going to fall into that trap. So, instead of responding, she concentrated her gaze on the view outside the car windows, the pale moonlight shimmering on the water. The giant billboard at the end of the bridge, everything but the man beside her, the man who’d once held her heart.

The silence stretched for a few more kilometres. He drove, and she refrained from asking what he meant when he said his wife left.

He didn’t need directions to her parent’s house. He’d been a regular guest when they were still dating. He drove down the quiet street to park at the front of the gate.

“Thanks,” Hope muttered, already reaching for the handle.

“Wait.” His voice was cajoling, pleading.

Hope sighed. “What?”

“I know you have every reason to hate me, Hope, but I’m really sorry. I’ve spent years thinking about what I did to you. Every time I thought about coming to apologise to you face to face, but I was afraid that you’d hate me too much to listen…”

“Charles…” Hope stopped him. “There’s no need for this. It was a long time ago. Like I said, I’ve moved on.”

“So…” he grinned. “Will you come with me to a party tomorrow evening? One of my friends is having a birthday soiree for his girlfriend.”

“I don’t… No,” Hope shook her head. What was he doing? “I don’t want to spend time with you.”

“Why?” He turned in his seat, towards her, giving her full view of his perfection. “If you’ve really forgiven me, you would.”

“I didn’t…”

“Or maybe you’re afraid?”

“Of what?”

His only reply was a smile. Not too smug not to be endearing, but smug nonetheless.

“I’m not afraid of being around you,” Hope said scornfully.

“Then prove it.”

This was where she should ask him to clarify about the wife, Hope thought, but was there a way to ask at this moment that wouldn’t give the impression that she was hoping for something more than just going to a party with him?

“Fine,” she said, giving in. “Tomorrow when?”

“Around seven.”

“Okay.”

He grinned. “Okay.”

She studied the triumphant expression on his face for a moment, then she opened the door and slid out of the car. Whatever it was she was doing, letting him close, flirting with whatever it was he was offering, she was sure that somehow, she would come to regret it.

Chapter 3 – The Only One

Greg Abudu’s wife gave birth on a Sunday, which, thankfully, meant that the naming ceremony seven days later could be a real party instead of the hurried, after-work-hours attempts of weekday namings, when half of the parents’ friends would be at work and unable to attend.

Hope could already hear the sounds of the party as she drove into the estate, a serene and well-maintained compound containing eight homes, a swimming pool, tennis court, and carefully tended lawns. It was beautiful, the sort of place you went to live when your hustling paid off and you became a real Lagosian, one who has arrived.

Hope parked close to Greg’s house, a two-storey white and cream structure with classical columns holding up the porch roof. In the lawn in front of the house, canopies had been set up for shade, with lawn tables and chairs arranged for the guests. There was a guy in one corner bent over a charcoal stove as he diligently prepared asun, the spicy and delicious dish of peppered goat meat that always made Hope weak at the knees. Next to him, a huge table was mounted with covered tableware out of which servers dished rice, soup, stews, and meats and placed the heaped plates on trays to be served to the guests.

There were people were milling all around. A few were dancing, others talking and many more seated beneath the canopies eating and drinking. The band was playing some of the new Nigerian songs, with beats that entered into your brain, hooked into the tissue like pinworms, made you sing along even though you hated the lyrics, and made you dance even though you had no idea what the singers were talking about.

“Hope!” It was Greg’s wife Mimi. She was a petite woman, jovial and always incredibly stylish. Right now, she was hurrying up to greet Hope, dressed in a well-made Woodin ensemble, with none of the infirmity you would expect from someone who just gave birth a week before. “Why are you just coming?” she scolded. “The party is almost over.”

An excuse was on the tip of Hope’s tongue, ‘I had some private work and it took longer than I anticipated,’ she was about to say, then she realized that Mimi probably didn’t really want the burden of a long explanation. “I’m sorry,” she said instead, and she meant it. “I hope I’m not too late.”

Mimi shrugged. “Not really. In any case, the person we are all dancing for has slept off. Thank God. These days we only get to dance at parties where the celebrants are sleeping.”

They both laughed. It was true, Hope thought. Almost all the parties she attended these days were for children.

“Come and greet your boss, then you’ll sit down and I’ll find someone to serve you okay?”

Hope nodded, allowing herself to be led towards Greg, who was carrying the sleeping baby.

“Engineer!” Greg was holding the baby very carefully, as if any wrong move would spoil something irreplaceable. “How now?”

Hope replied with a smile. “I’m fine o.” She peered at the baby’s peaceful face. “Wow, he looks so much like you already.”

Greg beamed with pride while Mimi rolled her eyes. “The next one is getting my looks,” she said.

Greg laughed, then turned to Hope. “I was just about to take this small boss upstairs so he can sleep well. I think the music might be disturbing him.”

“Can he hear yet?” Hope asked.

“They start hearing from the womb,” Mimi said. “But I don’t think Christopher minds the music. Look how peacefully he’s sleeping.” She touched her baby’s face, cooing softly.

“Christopher?” Hope asked, smiling. She loved the name.

“Christopher Oshoke Abudu,” Greg supplied.

“Nice.”

Mimi tugged at her arm. “Come and sit, so I can find someone to bring food for you.” She led Hope to a table, leaving her with a promise to send a server her way. Agnes waved from two tables away. She looked fantastic, her makeup and jewellery slightly more dramatic than the everyday office affair, and she seemed to be having fun. Hope would have joined her, but the table was full, and judging from the number of good-looking guys clustered around Agnes, it was obvious that she wouldn’t join Hope.

Somebody brought a bottle of wine and a glass, staying to open the bottle and pour her some. “Thank you,” Hope said, letting her eyes wander. There was something wrong in sitting alone at a party full of people you knew, she thought, almost amused.

“Hope.”

She froze, the glass of wine halfway to her lips. Charles was standing in front of her, his eyes tender, and filled with something that looked like pleasure at seeing her. He also looked insanely gorgeous in a light blue traditional caftan.

“Charles.” Hope said his name dryly, hoping that the tone of her voice and the way she pursed her lips would be enough to deter him from pestering her with his company.

He was smiling, and no matter how much she hated him, she couldn’t deny, even to herself, that he had a stunning smile. “Do you mind?” he asked, pulling out a chair and joining her without waiting for an answer.

Of course she minded. She didn’t want him anywhere her! But she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of thinking that his presence had any effect on her. She let her eyes wash over him with disinterest, then sipped her wine quietly, ignoring him. It was more than a week since that day at her office, and she had since convinced herself that the chance encounter would not repeat itself. Now here he was, smiling at her and giving her that earnest look, as if he hadn’t ripped out her heart and tore it to pieces. Bastard.

She wondered what he wanted. For a weak moment, she allowed herself to fantasize about him throwing himself at her feet and begging for forgiveness. She had composed the scornful words she would throw back at him, to hurt him, the way he’d hurt her.

Biting back a sigh, Hope stole a glance at him, and found his eyes fixed on her, a thoughtful look in their brown depths. “I wasn’t sure you’d be here, but I can’t tell you how glad I am that you are. I’ve been trying to get your number out of Greg since last week you know, but he keeps posting me.”

That was news to her. Hope hid her surprise. “Maybe he guessed that I don’t want you to have it,” she said. “Why would you ask him anyway? He’s my boss. He has no business handing my number to random ex-boyfriends.”

“Random ex-boyfriends?” Charles’s eyebrows went up. “We were together for five years, Hope. I’m not a random ex.”

Hope laughed. It was a rude, scornful sound. Then she took a long sip of her wine and gave him a look. One that she hoped conveyed how much she didn’t care what he thought.

His smile had faded. “There’s no need to be so hostile,” he said. He leaned closer to her and lowered his voice so it was barely above a whisper. “I should be given the chance to make amends, shouldn’t I? To show you how much I have changed from the selfish and immature person I used to be?”

Hope stiffened. Why was he leaning in so close and whispering in that voice that made her think of things they had shared that she would rather forget? Things like pleasure, intimacy… She frowned, angry with herself for her reaction to him. He was looking intently at her, a half smile on his face. Bastard! She thought angrily. It’s probably all a game to him.

“I don’t think it’s necessary for you to show me anything,” Hope said, setting her glass down on the table. Her hand was shaking slightly, she noticed, and she quickly brought it to her lap. “I don’t care if you’ve changed or not. I’m not holding any grudges.” She got up, smiling wryly. “Now you can go and find another former girlfriend to placate. I am going to talk to my friends.”

Charles’s expression didn’t change, and his eyes didn’t leave her face. Hope turned away, forgetting to stay collected as she walked away from the table. In her haste, she walked straight into Daniel Amadi, who was standing in the way.

She almost lost her balance as she crashed into the tall, hard-bodied figure. Strong arms shot out to steady her, holding her against a firm chest for a short moment before he released her.

Hope stepped back, embarrassed and trying to compose herself. In that moment, when she’d been flush against him, she’d felt the strong muscles of his masculine body, inhaled the cool scent of his cologne, the clean smell of his clothes. A crazy thought ran through her head about how she would like for him to hold her again, and she pushed it to the back of her mind. He’s not even your type, she told herself silently.

But he did look good. He was wearing tan pants and a tailored shirt. He looked casual, but somehow, still powerful. All of a sudden, her mind went back to their encounter in the elevator, him, holding her purse out to her. There had been something strangely intimate in that moment, as if, for those few seconds the whole world had disappeared and it was just the two of them.

“Are you okay?” he asked now, giving her a concerned frown. She’d never noticed how dark his eyes were. They were really dark, and intense, and if you looked closely, there was an interesting ring of lightish-brown around the pupils.

“Hope?” he prompted, and she realized that she was staring. What was wrong with her today?

“I…” she cleared her throat. “I’m fine. I just… I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

“Yes, I noticed,” he said, then smiled down at her.

Hope felt her breath leave her chest, leaving her feeling slightly lightheaded. This was the second time she had seen him smile in the space of a few days, and there really was something about his smile. It made her question her conviction that he wasn’t her type, and wonder if she really had a type at all.

“I didn’t expect to see you here,” she said, her voice suddenly light and almost breathy.

“Really?” He grinned. “Who can resist a baby’s party?” he said. “All of us grown-ups dressing up to celebrate for someone who has no idea what’s going on.”

Hope laughed. “I was just thinking the same thing.”

Daniel raised a brow. “Like minds, hmm?”

She may have been imagining it, but there was something definitely flirtatious in the way he said the words, in the look in his eyes, and the tone of his voice. She felt her insides suffuse with warmth, and she realized that she was staring at him, her lips parted softly as she pulled in a slow breath. She swallowed, then wet her lips, suddenly nervous. Really, what was wrong with her today?

Daniel was still looking at her, in a way that made it hard for Hope to think. “I… um… It was very nice to run into you here,” she said.

He chuckled, and pushed his hands into the pockets of his trousers. “It was um, very nice to run into you too.”

“Okay,” Hope breathed, turning around before she made a fool of herself. She made her escape, going over to Agnes’s table. Luckily, one of the guys had left, so she could sit there with them, talking about harmless things and enjoying the food and drink. She tried not to notice when Daniel Amadi left sometime later, walking to his car, a black G-Wagon, with Greg in tow.

She watched them talk for a short while before, Daniel drove off, then she turned her attention back to her companions, totally ignoring the fact that just a few tables away, Charles was now carrying out what seemed like a very flirtatious conversation with some girl Hope didn’t know.

Where was his wife anyway? Why was he all over the place, alone, probably being a nuisance to unsuspecting young women? He looked up suddenly and caught her staring. He smiled, and she looked away.

Later, after she had stayed long enough to satisfy Greg and Mimi, and had drunk just enough wine, not too much to impair her driving abilities, Hope said goodbye to the proud parents, and because Mimi was busy trying to take care of some newly arrived guests, she walked out to her car alone.

It was already evening, and growing a little dark. Hope unlocked the door and bent over to place the party favour Mimi had given her – cakes, small chops and fried meats – on the back seat. As she straightened, her neck prickled in alarm, and she turned around, almost jumping out of her skin when she discovered Charles standing behind her.

“I was admiring the view,” he said, unapologetic. He unlocked the car next to hers, a gleaming blue range rover, and carelessly placed his own party favour in the front passenger seat. “Did I tell you how good you look?” he said softly, turning back towards her. “You we’re always pretty, but now,” he sighs. “I can’t stop looking at you.”

Hope swallowed, and suddenly pain rose in her chest. She wanted to insult him, say all the mean things she had spent years imagining herself saying to him. She had built a future around this man, centred all her romantic dreams on him. He’d destroyed those dreams, and now he had the gall to tell her she looked good?

Calm down, a small voice whispered in her head. He’s not worth it. “Don’t say things like that to me,” she told him.

“I can’t help myself.” He made no move to come towards her, but the apparent sincerity and earnestness in his eyes was like a fist squeezing her chest. “Hope, I’ve never stopped thinking about you. You can’t imagine how many times I’ve wondered what it would be like to see you again, and now I have I’m completely blown away.”

If someone asked her to describe how she felt in that moment, Hope wouldn’t have been able to. It was a mixture of so many emotions, resentment for him, because he’d broken her heart, regret, for all the dreams she’d lost when she lost him, and yearning, because no matter how much she blamed him, hated him even, there was a part of her, that had never totally left the past behind.

“I have to go,” she said abruptly, climbing into her car and shutting the door. “Goodnight Charles.”

“Wait.” He appeared at the window and Hope wound the glass down, trying at least to be polite. “Can I call you at least?”

She chuckled bitterly. “No. There’s no need.”

“You’re wrong.”

“Maybe.” Hope hit the button and the glass started to go up. “But I don’t care.”

He stepped back from the car, but he stood there, watching her drive away, until she could no longer see him in the rear-view mirror.

Chapter 2 – The Only One

It was still lunchtime when they arrived at the office. Joy, one of the receptionists, was stuck at the front desk while her colleague Ladi had gone out to lunch. She was flipping through a boring looking travel magazine when Hope and Agnes walked into the reception.

Agnes had recovered her form enough to tottle past Hope on her high heels, right up to the marble and glass reception desk.

“Sweetie, you’ve still not gone to lunch.” She sounded concerned as she took the magazine from Joy. “What is this one you’re reading sef?” Not waiting for an answer, she tossed the magazine aside and went on. “If only you had come out with us, then I won’t have been the only witness to Hope and Daniel Amadi flirting in the lift.”

“Flir what!” Joy’s face lost the expression of boredom in an instant. She looked at Hope with a gleam in her eyes that eyes that could have been either respect or envy. “Serious?!”

Hope rolled her eyes. “Don’t mind Agnes. He only said hello.”

“He said hello to you?” Apparently that was as much of a big deal as the flirting that hadn’t happened. “But he doesn’t say hello to anybody!”

Come to think of it, had he even said hello? Seeing the expression on Joy’s face Hope was suddenly seized with a morbid fear of seeing her picture in some gossip blog or the other. BREAKING! Lagos millionaire bachelor, Daniel Amadi, says “hello’ to plain, boring engineer.

“It wasn’t like that… we were in the lift together.” Hope looked at Agnes for help. “He didn’t even say hello, he just acknowledged us a little.”

“Us? Don’t mind Hope,” Agnes countered, enjoying the fact that Hope was on the receiving end of the teasing. “I was there, her purse fell and he picked it for her.” That statement caused Joy’s eyes to grow wide, but Agnes wasn’t finished. “Then they started looking into each other’s eyes ehn… in fact I felt as if I was intruding.”

Hope burst into helpless laughter at the ridiculous exaggeration of what had actually happened. “I am not having this conversation with you girls. He was just being polite. I don’t even know why you are all so crazy about him. As for me, I don’t see what the big deal is. I’m going to my desk. I have work to do.”

“So you don’t think he’s hot?” Joy asked, her face a study in disbelief.

“He’s okay,” Hope replied.

“Hmm.” Joy smirked. “He is the complete package o! There is nothing wrong with him.”

Agnes nodded in agreement. They launched into a conversation that started with “If someone like him asked me out ehn….”

Hope left them talking and escaped into the main office. It was an open office design, with glass walls on three sides. The partner’s offices were partitioned off at the rear, and one side was taken over by two enclosed conference rooms. In the wide space where Hope was standing, multiple cubicles were arranged in open ended squares, each square containing three workstations.

Hope made for her workstation, stopping in her tracks when the doors to one of the conference rooms opened and two men emerged, right in front of her.

Hope froze, her legs suddenly leaden as her blood slowed. Then her heart started to pound, hard and heavy against her ribs, making it very hard to breath.

One of the men was her boss. Greg Abudu. He was a friendly man in his late thirties, always cheerful, and just beginning to show the early signs of coming portliness. He smiled widely, as he always did whenever he saw Hope.

The other man was smiling too, his eyes fixed on Hope’s face with an expression of pleasant surprise. Hope stared at him, her mind bubbling with emotion. God! How she hated that painfully handsome face. How the pleasure in those brown eyes grated on her nerves as they slid over her face, silently saying how glad he was to see her, how beautiful he thought it was that they had met again. She hated the illusion of friendliness and amiability that he projected. ‘I’m one of the good guys,’ he seemed to say without speaking. ‘see how nice I am even though I am so handsome I should be a demon. I’ll never break your heart.’

But he had. He had broken her heart, in the worst way possible.

“Hope!” His voice was crème. That was the only word to describe it. The perfect pitch and smoothness to make one unaware of everything but the pleasure of listening to him. She wished the sound was ugly to her ears, but it wasn’t. No matter how much she hated him, she couldn’t hate the sound of that velvety voice washing over her skin like a caress.

Hope chose not to respond to his eager exclamation, instead, she stood there, silent, causing Greg to start with introductions, even though it was obvious that they knew each other.

“Charles this is Hope Alade. She’s one of our building services engineers.” He gave Hope a proud smile. “Hope, this is my friend Charles DaSilva. He’s a manager a Bond bank.”

“I know Hope very well,” Charles said smoothly, still smiling. He stepped forward, closer to where she was standing. “Long time no see, Hope. Aren’t you going to give me a hug at least?”

Of course not!

“Hello Charles.” she made no move to hug him. He had taken too much from her to be entitled to anything else, even something as small as a hug.

“You look wonderful,” he said, ignoring her obvious hesitance to talk to him. “More beautiful than I remember.” His eyes did a leisurely journey over her face and figure. “I had no idea you worked here, I’d have been around to see Greg sooner.” He turned to Greg, and explained in that smooth voice of his that he had met Hope back in the university. “She was the love of my life.”

One of the many loves of your life, Hope added silently, bitterly… the memories were rushing back now. Back in school, she had being careful. She hadn’t been one of those girls who went wild at their first taste of freedom, whose sole purpose was to find a boyfriend and lose their unwanted hymens. She’d been determined to wait, to fall in love with someone who was worth it. So she had waited, two years after freshman year, all her friends were hooked up, some on their second, third boyfriends, and she had continued to rebuff the guys who showed interest. It was easy, you only had to look at them, to hear them talk, to see that they really wanted only one thing.

Then there was Charles. Unlike the popular guys, who wore their swagger on their sleeves, Charles was refreshing. He was a final year student, studious, and so good-looking it was impossible not to stare at him, but so unaware of his cuteness, that he was perfect. He was always courteous. He would open doors for strangers. Of course, in retrospect, Hope had realized that all the strangers on the receiving end of his courtesy had been pretty girls. He was so gifted at making girls feel like princesses, that it was too easy to fall in love with him.

She hadn’t trusted him though, even when she developed something close to obsession for him after just a chance meeting at the library. She had never met him before, but he had helped her find the books she wanted and carried them to her reading desk, leaving her alone to read afterwards. Hardly able to concentrate, and definitely unable to dispel the image of his perfect face for long enough to get interested in what she was reading, she’d been relieved when she was ready to leave, to find him waiting at the library car park.

“I wasn’t waiting for you,” he’d said with a mischievous smile, and a twinkle in his eyes that made it so obvious that he had indeed being waiting for her.

That was the first day. After that he seemed to always be there. He found out everything about her, and pursued her. She fell hard for him, but she didn’t trust him, there were rumors about him and many different girls all over campus.

He pursued her for a whole semester. At last it had been the promise of sensual delight, and the whole world that she could glimpse on the other side of his kisses, that had made her stop resisting him. Her body argued for him in a way that her brain was helpless to resist, so first she agreed to be a girlfriend, and in no time, she was his lover.

She had been happy, so happy and in love. The first time is always like that, like the opening of a whole new universe. It didn’t take long to wake up to reality. While Charles had been waiting for her to say yes, he had been sleeping with someone else, someone who, as she discovered just a few weeks into their relationship, he was still sleeping with.

When she confronted him, he didn’t bother to deny it. “How long was I supposed to wait?” he had asked, his incredulous expression almost convincing her that she was being ridiculous. “I’m not built to be celibate. No man is, regardless of what those silly romance novels you read tell you.”

“But you’re still sleeping with her,” she had cried, hoping that he would at least deny that part, the passion that just weeks ago, she wouldn’t have known that she was capable of feeling, making her desperate.

“I can’t just tell her that I’m no longer interested.”

He made it sound like commonsense, like she would understand if only she were more mature. Still, she’d stormed out, spent the night crying in the hostel while her roommates exchanged knowing looks. Everybody knew about Charles daSilva, they’d all warned her, and they’d been expecting the breakup sooner than later.

But the next day he had come to find her. With promises of how she was the only one he really wanted. There would be no one else from now on, he’d said, and foolishly, she had believed him, spending the next few years closing her eyes to all the evidence of his cheating, because she didn’t want to feel the pain of losing him again.

But she still lost him. Right under her nose, he’s met, courted and gotten engaged to someone else. She’s graduated then, working at her first job and waiting expectantly for the ring she’d deluded herself into thinking he would give her. He hadn’t even bothered to give her the dignity of ending their relationship properly, he’d allowed her to hear of his engagement through a mutual friend.

Keeping herself from confronting him was the hardest thing she’d ever done. She’d ignored his calls and finally changed her number. She told the gatemen and receptionists at her office to always tell him that she wasn’t around. She’d refused to allow herself the temptation to listen to whatever explanation he would give her for why he was marrying someone else.

He got married, about a year after she found out about the engagement. The transition from deluded girlfriend to bitter ex had been painful, but she dealt with the pain and the shame, and even though it took a while, she succeeded in getting her happiness and confidence back.

Hope realized that she was still staring at him, with a god-knows-what expression on her face. She was behaving stupidly, she realized. When you met an ex-boyfriend again, you wanted to be beautiful, rich, and charming. To be enjoying your life, and to be able to show him in every gesture, word and smile that you didn’t care about him anymore, and that he had lost the world when he lost you.

So why was she standing here acting like some wife whose cheating husband had come home to beg for forgiveness.

She smiled at him. “That was a long time ago, Charles.” She turned to Greg. “At that age everybody fell in and out of love all the time.”

Greg laughed jovially. “I can attest to that!”

“I can’t.” Charles said earnestly, gazing deep into Hope’s eyes. “My feelings were always very concrete, even then.”

Even though she knew it was rubbish, Hope felt her heart tighten. That look! She took a deep breath. “I hope you had a good meeting. It was nice to see you again Charles.”

He smiled back. “Yes it was.”

She nodded, keeping her smile on her face she stepped around them and took the few steps to her desk. She sat down and turned on her system with shaking fingers, keeping her eyes on her screen until the men were long gone.