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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