Tag Archive | lagos romance series

Chapter 5 – The Only One.

The next day, Saturday, Hope spent most of the morning in bed feeling lazy. Midmorning, she finally got up and halfheartedly tidied her room before taking a quick shower and going downstairs in search of something to eat.

Her father was in the living room, seated in his favorite chair with his glasses perched on the edge of his nose, staring suspiciously at the screen of his phone.

“Good morning, daddy.”

“Good morning, madam.” He’d been calling her madam since she got her first job.

Hope considered asking him what the problem was with the phone, but she decided to give him time to solve it on his own. It was probably something as simple as locating text message drafts or some other such thing.

In the kitchen, her mother and Justina were pouring the last of the ground beans paste for moinmoin into skillfully folded leaves, which her mother carefully set in a wide bottomed pot for steaming.

“You’ve finally woken up,” her mother commented, lips pursed. “I thought we won’t see you till tomorrow.”

“Mummy, it’s Saturday! After my hectic week, don’t I deserve the rest?”

“Rest? Till afternoon? Okay. We’ll be here when you have children. Shebi you will sleep when they’re jumping on your bed crying for food.”

Hope rolled her eyes. “Mummy you’ve forgotten that I used to do all this work Justina does now… I’m on housework parole. Time off for time served.”

Her mother sighed. “At least nobody can say I didn’t train you well. Are you hungry?”

“Dying,” Hope replied.

“You’re not dying in Jesus name,” her mother muttered under her breath, prompting another eye roll from Hope and a muffled giggle from Justina.

“Aunty ‘ope, Good morning,” Justina said, her smile revealing the space where she’d lost a tooth before she came to live with them. She was fifteen years old, at least that was her best guess, and had been with them since she was eleven. She was in her last year of Junior secondary school and doing fairly well academically. She’d confided to Hope that she wanted to be an engineer like her when she grew up, and Hope had assured her that it was possible, even though she was sure Justina had no idea what an engineer really did.

“Your food is in the microwave,” her mother said now, placing the last of the moinmoin in the pot and watching as Justina put it on the cooker. “Yam and egg.”

Hope nodded, going over to retrieve the covered dish from inside the microwave. It was still warm so she didn’t bother heating it. She set it on the kitchen counter and picked up a fork, coating a piece of yam with eggsauce before popping it in her mouth.

“Are you going to eat standing there…? Go to the dining… Justina! Why is the gas on the highest heat, when have we ever cooked moinmoin on the highest heat. You want to finish the gas? I have never seen a child that doesn’t learn…”

Hope escaped the familiar tirade and went to sit in the adjoining dining room. She could see the TV as she ate, and her father had solved whatever the issue was with his phone and was now watching the news. She didn’t have to be anywhere till evening, when she would go with Charles to his friend’s party. The thought made her apprehensive, and a little excited too. She wondered what her parents would say if they knew she had met Charles again, that she was letting him take her on what was in some ways, a date.

Her mother would flip, and her father would give her that disapproving look from beneath his glasses. She couldn’t blame them, they’d been witness to the devastation Charles had caused when he broke her heart all those years ago, the spontaneous tears, the listlessness, the depression… She wished there was someone to talk to, her sister maybe. Grace was married, and a medical doctor. She’d either be at the hospital or spending the morning with her family. Her younger brother Gerald was not the best person to consult about romantic stuff. He always pretended to listen for as long as he could bear before offering some unconnected solution, like a drink, a night at the club or going to see a movie.

She should drive over to see one of them, Hope decided, before realizing that she didn’t have a car. The unreliable mechanic still hadn’t called.

As the thought crossed her mind, her phone rang. It was the mechanic.

“Madam, sorry o! I swear as I dey repair your motor, I just sleep. I just sleep go. I no even know when I off my phone. Na so the sleep take catch me.”

Hope snorted, unimpressed with his excuse. “Abeg… Have you finished now?”

“Yes,” he replied. “I dey bring am come your office.”

“Shebi you don’t know today is Saturday? Why will I be in my office?”

“Sorry madam, I forget. I go bring am come your house.”

“But you don’t know where I live.”

“Na true o! But just describe am. I go bring the motor come.”

Hope considered trusting the unreliable mechanic with driving her car to the mainland, then decided against it. “Just take it to the office,” she told him. “I’ll come and pick it from there.”

She finished breakfast and changed into jeans and a bright orange tshirt with the slogan ‘the bigger the better’ then in smaller letters, ‘that’s how I like my books.’ She told her parents where she was going and listened to her mum go on about how mechanics on the mainland were more reliable. It wasn’t very true. All car mechanics in Lagos, in fact the whole country, were probably the same.

She walked from her house to the estate gate. Thankfully the sun wasn’t very hot so she could add the few thousand steps to her Fitness app without breaking a sweat. Outside the estate, she found an aging yellow cab with an ancient looking grey-haired driver. They bartered and agreed on a price, and because it was Saturday, in no time at all she was at her office.

She called the mechanic on her phone as a security man let her in through the front gate. Most of the offices were closed on Saturday, but the building maintenance people provided the basics, generator power for when there was a power cut, water, security, etc, for the few companies that opened on the weekends.

“Sister, good afternoon o!” Alfred, the guy on duty at the front entrance greeted her, “but your people have not opened office today.”

Hope smiled at the young man. She liked him because he was always reading a book, and she’d found out that he was pursuing a part-time degree. “We’re not opening today. My mechanic is bringing my car here. I came to pick it up.”

“Okay. Will you wait here,” he gestured at the waiting area in the big lobby, “or you want to go to the lobby on your floor?”

“I think I’ll go up,” Hope said. She’d brought her kindle and she hoped to get some quality reading time in the quiet upstairs lobby before the mechanic finally decided to show up. She made her way to the elevator bank, stopping a few feet from the doors as one of them slid open to reveal Daniel Amadi.

He was looking down at his watch as he strode out of the lift, a striking figure in jeans and a unbuttoned short sleeved shirt over a plain light grey t-shirt. He was kinda hot, Hope thought, staring at the broad expanse of his chest, the tightly muscled arms… He was fit, athletic looking, but not bulky. She liked that. Now she definitely could not remember why she’d ever thought he wasn’t hot.

He looked up from his watch, saw her standing there and stopped, a smile slowly spreading cross his features. “Hope!”

She realised that she’d been staring, and she tried to cover up with a cheerful greeting. “Hi!”

“What are you doing here?” he frowned. “I didn’t know you worked on Saturdays?”

“I usually don’t, except when we have a really crazy deadline… I… My car had a fault yesterday and the mechanic who fixed it is bringing it over here today, so I came to pick it up. I was just going to the lobby on my floor to wait.” God! She was rambling! How come! It wasn’t as if she was some nervous jambite straight from an all-girls boarding school, conversing with a hot guy for the first time.

He was smiling, looking slightly amused. His eyes went to the message on her t-shirt and his smile broadened. He looked up at her. “Sooo… the car’s been fixed?”

Hope nodded. “Yes.”

“Good,” Daniel said. “You won’t have long to wait then.”

“I hope so,” she replied, wondering if, with the kind of money he had, he ever had to deal with mechanics. He probably had a fleet of brand new cars and changed each one as soon as a new model was made.

“We were working on a technical problem with the servers. It’s about fixed, though some of the engineers are still up there. I’m abandoning them.” He smiled ruefully.

“The perks of being the boss,” Hope teased.

He shrugged. “I wish. It’s been a while since I slept. I’ve learned from experience that the efficacy of caffeine steadily diminishes the longer you stay awake. I think I may have become immune because even the floor of this lobby looks like a good place to crash right now.”

Hope tried not to laugh at the image of him asleep on the lobby floor. She peered at his face. He did look tired. “Well, have a good rest.”

He smiled and started to leave, then he stopped. “Hope?”

“Yes?” There was a wealth of expectation in her, causing a few stray butterflies to flutter senselessly in her tummy. It was silly, especially when she had no idea what he planned to say.

“What are you doing later, in the evening?”

Her eyebrows rose. He was going to ask her on a date. Wow! Daniel Amadi. The girls in the office would really take that story to town. “I.. em..” She paused, remembering Charles and the party she had agreed to attend with him. “I..” she sighed. “I’m kinda hanging out with an old friend.”

Daniel nodded. “Okay.” His smile was polite as he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “See you around, then.”

Hope watched him walk away, his tall, broad-shouldered figure moving with a graceful, loping stride. Would he have asked her to dinner? to hangout somewhere casual? She had no doubt that she would enjoy herself with him. He seemed like someone who would be interesting to know. Her mind went to Charles and she almost kicked herself. It made no sense that she had just turned down a date with a single and eligible guy like Daniel just so she could spend an evening with Charles. It made no sense at all. It was the sort of thing that would make her mother clap her hands together in dismay and question if Hope was really her daughter.

At that mental image of her mother, she smiled and pressed the call button for the lift. She settled into one of the seats in the ninth floor lobby, and after spending little more than an hour reading on her kindle, her phone finally rang. It was the mechanic, calling to tell her that he had delivered her car and was waiting downstairs.

 

Hope spent the rest of afternoon at her sister’s place. Grace had returned from the hospital sometime in the morning and was now asleep. The children, bored with their nanny, welcomed Hope with boundless joy. There were two girls six and four, and two boys, three and one. Their father had just left for the grocery store to do some shopping when Hope arrived.

The enthusiastic chorus of Auntie Hope! Auntie Hope! was a sign of things to come. She spent the next few hours singing, drawing, watching cartoons, rocking the baby to sleep, helping with crosswords and generally rediscovering that children had an inexhaustible supply of energy. By the time Grace woke up towards evening, there was no time for the heart to heart talk that Hope wanted. She had to leave to prepare for her evening with Charles.

Unlike the days when they’d been dating, when Charles would come into the house and sit with her parents in the living room discussing everything from current affairs to career goals, this time he called her when he was parked outside to let her know he was waiting.

“Who’s this person you’re going out with that cannot come inside and greet your parents?” her mother said when Hope came downstairs, all dressed up in a short peach and cream dress, jeweled sandals with light but flawless makeup.

“Mummy! It’s the first time we’re going out. I don’t think I want him meeting the parents and going through your interview when I don’t even know if I like him yet.”

“If you don’t like him, why are you going out with him.”

Hope looked to her father for help but he studiously ignored them both and fixed his eyes on the TV.

“It’s just some guy I met in the office, mummy. No need for all this concern,” Hope lied.

“Guy from the office and he can’t come and greet your parents,” Hope heard her mother mutter. It went on, but she’d already left the living room. She heard her father says something, and then her mother laughed. She pursed her lips. That’s what always happened, they would lecture you, then when they thought you were out of earshot they would laugh about how they did the same things when they were young. Parents!

Outside, Charles was waiting in the car, running the engine and listening to 90s hiphop. “Hey,” he drawled as she climbed in, his beautiful eyes moving sensually from her face down to her body. “You look good.”

Hope shrugged. “Well, you don’t look bad.”

His smile was confident. He knew that he looked good, Hope decided. Unbelievably good actually. There was something annoying yet attractive about a guy who knew how good-looking he was and didn’t try to hide it with some sort of false modesty.

Guys who didn’t seem to know at all that they were good-looking were also attractive, she thought, her mind going to Daniel Amadi. He had that aura, like he took care of himself but didn’t measure himself by the way he looked, or expect anybody to measure him with that either.

“So how was your day?” Charles asked, snapping her out of her thoughts. He lowered the music and smiled at her.

“Nothing much. I went to the office… Got my car back.”

“Ah… your car! I forgot to ask. So it’s working okay now?”

“Yeah.”

Hope wanted to ask him why he suddenly wanted to spend time with her. What the situation was with his marriage. Why he threw appreciative glances her way every ten seconds as if he had a right to… but instead she stayed silent. Maybe after the party she would ask. For now, she would just take it moment by moment, enjoy his attention, and try not to feel as if she was making a huge mistake by allowing him anywhere near her.

“So what’s going on in your life?”

She shrugged.

“Come on,” he cajoled. “You have to give me more than that. Is there a boyfriend?”

Hope turn her face to look at him, barely swallowing the bitter snort that threatened to come out of her mouth. Instead, she smiled sweetly. “Not right now, no.”

“Lagos guys are blind.” He was smiling. “Look at you. Guys should be lining up at your door.”

Hope was hovering somewhere between flattered and confused. How did one even respond to a statement like that?

“Who says they aren’t?”

He grinned. “So I have competition.”

Hope was silent. Why would he even say that? Was he trying to hint that he wanted to be with her again or was he just playing with her head? “Charles.”

“Hmmn,” he said, his attention on the road.

“What did you mean when you said your wife left?”

There was a long pause. “Why don’t we talk about that later,” he said finally.

There was no traffic, so by this time he was already swinging into the parking lot of a new and popular café in Lekki phase one. Inside, the whole mezzanine floor has been booked for the party. The host was Frank Leton, a twice divorced man in his forties with interests in oil marketing and – it was whispered – 419 activities. The girlfriend was at least twenty years younger and extraordinarily beautiful, just like the two women he’d already married and divorced.

He gave Hope a leering smile as Charles introduced them, and while the two men patted each other on the back, laughing at some jokes she didn’t understand. She looked around. There were lots of girls, many younger than her, and the men were mostly older, late thirties or forties, some wearing wedding rings, though it was clear that their companions were not their wives.

Hope sighed. Oh well. It wasn’t like she could judge, not when she was also here with a married man whose relationship status she hadn’t clearly confirmed.

Charles finally remembered her. He found them a booth and ordered drinks. There were a lot of those going around, expensive drinks, barbecued chicken, chips, peppered snails, goat meat, suya… Hope picked at the delicious platter Charles set in front of her. He’d joined her in the booth and was leaning very close. “I love your hair,” he said, his fingers finding their way to stroke her hair and the tender spots behind her ear.

Hope sucked in a breath and moved slightly, putting a little space between them.

Charles chuckled. “You can’t run away forever,” he whispered.

Hope pretended not to hear. The DJ was doing a very good job, so she concentrated on that, moving her body to the music as she ate.

“You were always such a good dancer,” Charles continued, his eyes devouring her every movement.

She looked away from the stark sexual appreciation in his gaze, unnerved by the way it made her feel. Pleased, flattered, flirty…

“Come on,” he said. “You should dance. I love watching you dance. Always so sexy.”

Hope ignored him, her eyes sliding to the girls who were dancing around the booths. For the men, not with them. The men mostly sat and watched while young beautiful girls gyrated and teased and tried to keep their attention.

“I’m not getting up to dance for you,” she told Charles.

Something crossed his face, a small expression of impatience, but he quickly replaced it with a smile. He leaned closer to her on the seat so that even with the thick aroma of alcohol, food and cigars, she could smell the freshness of his cologne. His fingers found her arm and stroked lightly, making her tremble. “One day, you’ll forgive me, really forgive me. You know that, right?”

Hope forced a chuckle. “Really?”

“Yes, because you never stopped loving me.”

Hope wanted to laugh, to throw her platter of peppery dishes in his face. She wanted to do a lot of things. Charles was looking into her eyes, his face close, apparently unfazed by the fact that what he said could annoy her. Her laughter died in her throat, as did any smart rejoinder she could have attempted. Just looking at him, she realised that he still had the power to reach her insides, to make her confused, to doubt herself, and to want him to be hers, the way he had never ever been.

As the realization passed through her mind, she forced a mocking smile to hide the tumult she was feeling. She laid her fingers on his cheek and stroked it gently. “You still think too much of yourself, Charles. You have to work on that.”

He grinned. To any onlooker, it would have looked like an intimate scene. Hope didn’t care, because she didn’t know anyone there. At least she thought so, until something made her look towards the stairs and she saw Daniel Amadi. He’d only just arrived, and as he ascended into the mezzanine, his eyes locked on hers, and she saw realization suffuse his features.

She pulled her hand from Charles’s cheek, mortified at what she assumed would be going through Daniel’s mind. It was too late. Daniel smiled wryly in her direction, nodded a silent greeting, then turned away – and in the few minutes he spent at the party, greeting the host and a few other people, he didn’t look her way again, not even once.

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.

Chapter 1 – The Only One

There was practically no part of Victoria Island where parking was not a problem, where one didn’t have to circle around once or twice trying to find a good spot, before having to squeeze in between two cars in such a way that it was only just possible to slide sideways out of one’s 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 possible, to take your car out to lunch or whatever, and have someone else take your precious spot.

The security man shook his head again, “Parking don full,” he said in pidgin. “Auntie Hope, you go park for street.”

Hope sighed 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 darling Elantra, 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, she looked drowsy. Pounded yam and goat meat soup was obviously not an advisable choice for lunch, Hope decided, watching as Agnes struggled to undo her seat-belt.

“I don’t have a choice, do I?” Hope glanced suspiciously up and down the street. There were other cars parked on the curbs, but it didn’t make her feel better. “I hate leaving my car on the street,” she said. “We should have walked.”

Agnes gave her a look that said ‘not-me-and-you’. “Walking ke! So that we’ll arrive at a restaurant full of big boys sweating, with my make up running down my face. Thank you.”

Hope smiled despite herself. Agnes was obsessed with big boys, fine boys, hot boys, or just boys.  In the two years that they had worked together at Madueke and Makinde Engineering, she had come to realize that while Agnes was as sharp as a brand 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. Continue reading

Introducing…… The Only One.

The last book in the Lagos Romance Series was more than two years ago. I’ve been working on other stuff, so I haven’t written another book set in Nigeria. This story has been on my to-do list for a long time, and the first two chapters were written ages ago. It’s a love story (of course!) and has something of a love triangle:). I hope to have the whole book finished before the end of the year.

Anyway. I’ll try to post new chapters every two weeks. Enjoy!

Chapter Four

“Tell you what?” Ada stammered, wondering if she had heard him right. There was no way he could have come all the way to her apartment just to ask about her personal feelings towards him!

He sighed. “I’m intruding, I know, and I’m sorry.” He paused as if waiting for her to say something to the contrary, perhaps that he wasn’t intruding. She stayed quiet.

“Look, I need to know.” He continued. “For some reason, even though I have never done anything bad to you that I know of, you dislike me.” There was an accusing note in his voice. Have I hurt his feelings, Ada wondered, or his pride?

“It’s not just that you said it today.” He stated accusingly. “It’s always been obvious.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” Ada said. If she had known that just that statement would affect him so much, she would have kept her mouth shut. There goes my desire to collapse on the bed and fall asleep, she thought.

“Come on!” He exclaimed. “At least you can’t deny that you admitted it today.”

She really should have kept her big mouth shut. “That was the wine talking.” She told him, it was half-true anyway.

“One glass.” He pointed out, shaking his head in disbelief. “Admit it. You don’t like me.” He gave her a challenging look. When she didn’t say anything, he continued. “Well for some reason, I find that I like you.” He paused, as Ada’s face drew into an expression of puzzlement. “Yes. I like you, a lot actually. So what I’d like to know is why our opinions of each other are so unfortunately out of balance.” Continue reading

Chapter Three

It was a society wedding. The type where there were a lot of high profile people, no celebrities or sports people, just a lot of old money, a few politicians with old names, and their highly indulged offspring.

It was noisy, but it was a refined sort of noise; well-modulated voices of society matrons in conversation, their exclamations as they met the children of their friends – potential spouses for their children, the deep laughter of men, not too loud, just self-possessed, the way rich men laughed, not the loud, self-conscious cackling often attributed to the obsequious poor. Above the din, the live band played, alternating between old classics and modern sounds.

They were beautiful, Ada thought, these people. The women, with their expensive laces, sweet smelling perfumes and beautiful jewelry, – not the loud, heavy jewels of the classless rich, but subdued pieces of gold, pearls and precious stones that didn’t need to scream to get your attention. The men, with their distinguished airs, deep voices and impeccable manners, and their children, young, beautiful and stylish, with musical voices adorned with the best of British and American private school accents.  Continue reading

Chapter Two

“I still don’t know why you couldn’t come to live with us.”

Ada looked up from the kitchen counters she was busy cleaning, at her brother, Zubi. He was her only sibling, if you didn’t include her father’s children with his second wife, whom she didn’t know at all. He was sitting on the tiny kitchen counter, swinging his legs like a small boy, with a slight frown on his face. Ada shook her head.

“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?”

Continue reading

Chapter One

It was late afternoon. At that time of the day, Tafawa Balewa Square was not yet as busy as it would be later in the evening, when the labor force from Victoria Island, would arrive to queue for the buses that would take them over the bridges, to the mainland. Now there was a long queue of big, empty buses, with only a few passengers seated. The drivers waited impatiently for more people to arrive so that they could be on their way. Hawkers, selling cold drinks, fruits, boiled groundnuts, and other typical Lagos traffic snacks, sat impatiently on the curbs, disgruntled with the slow afternoon sales and eagerly awaiting the thirsty, hungry crowd that would soon arrive.

On the other side of the road, in front of the old tennis club, Ada Arinze watched as two children in school uniforms walked along the sidewalk, holding hands. The bigger child, a girl about eight years old, wore a red pinafore, a pink check shirt, black rubber shoes, and a pair of white socks that reached up to her knees. The boy, much smaller, wore the same except that instead of the pinafore he was wearing red shorts.

Ada was already reaching for the camera hanging down from her neck. The movement, almost involuntary, happened whenever she sensed a good picture. Her slim, caramel skinned, medium height figure was casually dressed in blue jeans, black sneakers and a purple T-shirt, her thick cloud of tightly curled, springy hair, narrowly prevented from becoming a sky-high afro, by a wide purple headband. Continue reading