The Pro-Touch office hadn’t changed since Tara left and as she walked in, she felt a peculiar tenderness towards the little room. She arrived early; it was a week since Imade invited her back and she had finally made her decision.
‘First things first,’ she said. ‘Dapo and I want to repay some of the money you lost. We ought to have done this earlier, but there were too many loose ends to tie up.’
Imade shook her head. ‘You don’t have to pay anything.’
‘But what about your bills and all the debts you incurred?’
She sat down as Imade related the rest of the story. ‘The police confiscated the items at Gaius and Helen’s house. Most of them were sold and I was reimbursed a sizeable portion of my losses. The remainder, well, it’s a sacrifice I just have to make.’
‘I’m glad all wasn’t lost. Maybe Haven orphanage could put this cash to good use,’ she tucked the bundle of notes back into her purse. ‘I’m still a bit curious though. What of Helen’s mum, who she mentioned was sick in the village?’
‘It was all a lie,’ Imade replied. ‘You remember the address on the resume that you thought was false? That was where Helen lived before she moved in with Gaius. It was her mother you met the day you went looking for her.’
Tara slapped her hand against her forehead. ‘I should have known!’ she exclaimed. ‘But why did she deny knowing her?’
‘Protecting her young, I guess. They tend to be wary of strangers around those parts and I guess Helen had warned her ahead. The poor old woman; imagine how heartbroken she was when we told her what her daughter had done. She said Helen suddenly began giving her large sums of money. When she questioned her, Helen replied that fortune had smiled down on them.’
Imade shook her head and continued. ‘Helen broke down and cried when the police took all the stuff away. She said she only wanted her family to enjoy the good life that they never had. It seems things were really tough for them while she was growing up.’
‘Sounds like my own childhood,’ Tara remarked. ‘Things weren’t too rosy for us either. Life can be tough sometimes. I really wish Helen had stuck it out at Pro-Touch though, she had so much potential. If she had stayed on and worked hard, she would eventually have been able to afford all those nice things.’
‘The most painful part was how her mother wept as they took her daughter away. Helen and lover boy Gaius, will be spending some time in jail.’ She paused and bit her lips. ‘Tara, I’m sorry I misjudged you.’
‘Oh no, I guess I had it coming from the start. I must apologize for all the stress I put you through. I don’t harbor any hard feelings against you; not any more. I’m just thankful that we discovered the truth.’
‘So, does this mean you’re coming back to Pro-Touch? Your desk has been waiting for you.’
Tara looked round the little office she and Imade had shared for almost a year. Together, they had transformed it from a musty old room to the nerve center of a budding business. She had chosen the African-themed oil paintings that hung on the cream walls and the bold ‘Pro-Touch’ sign written on the door in fine calligraphy. She smiled as she recalled how aggressively she brought in new customers, some of whom had remained clients till now.
‘No,’ she answered finally. ‘My time here has come to an end.’ Her efforts at Pro-Touch had been worth the while, but now it was time to move on. She paused a bit before announcing her good news. ‘I’ve been offered a marketing position at Syntel; a telecoms firm. It’s a great opportunity, one I had dreamed of for a long time. But it was my experience at Pro-Touch that paved the way to securing the job and I have you to thank for that.’
Imade was glad for the part she played in jump starting Tara’s career. ‘I can’t be anything but happy for you,’ she said. ‘God saw your dedication to Pro-Touch even when I didn’t.’
Tara fished into her bag and brought out a leather bound book. It was the bible Imade had given her. The silvery laced edges were slightly frayed. ‘I drew a lot of strength from these pages,’ she said. ‘It’s been a great companion these past months.’
Imade smiled faintly. Tara might be a young believer but she had such a passion for the Lord. How could she ever have doubted her faith? As they gave each other a warm hug, all bitterness was forgotten.
Tara left and Imade said a prayer of thanks, as she settled back to work. She was thankful that Pro-Touch was no longer on the path of extinction and for the wakeup call which the retrenchment from Avery had given her. Bitter as it seemed then, it had prepared her for the road ahead.
Right now, she did not have a lot of money stashed away, but she had discovered a deeper heritage. It took a shaking for her to discover where her flair lay; but once she did, she never stopped cultivating it. Pro-Touch was bringing out those talents in a way that Avery never did. She was glad that she didn’t give up when things seemed to be failing and was determined to leave a family fortune for Ehis and hopefully, his siblings. That was, when God finally answered her prayers. The thought made her smile to herself. It was one thing to make a livelihood for herself; it was another thing to be able to share her life with someone else. She could not deny the yearning within her and right now, that was still one area in her life that was yet to make her joy full.
‘Mr. and Mrs. Kolade, you have a beautiful daughter,’ the matron said. ‘I know you’ll love her like she’s your own.’
Tara took the six months old girl and cradled her in her arms. Baby Precious was brought into Haven by a stranger, who found her abandoned in an uncompleted building when she was only a few days old. She was thin and pallid when she first arrived at the orphanage, but now the color had returned to her cheeks. Tara formed a special bond with the little girl from the first day she saw her.
Dapo was unwilling to do this initially, but as the months passed, he too developed a special interest in the little girl. Tara knew her prayers had come a long way. Now, she was persuaded that nothing was impossible. Deep down, she knew God had big plans for both of them and she held on to the glimmer of persuasion that burned in her heart that one day, her husband too would come to know the Lord. For now, she had Precious to take care of.
‘Come on,’ Dapo said. ‘Let’s take Precious home.’
The little boy who had fallen down during Tara’s first visit trailed behind them as they left the orphanage. As they stepped outside, the matron took him by the hand. He waved goodbye to Precious, his eyes sparkling as he stood in the doorway. Tara smiled and waved back.
‘Someone will come for you someday,’ her eyes told him, the unspoken thoughts drifting into the air. ‘I’m sure they will.’
Her phone rang as they drove home. ‘Tara,’ Imade’s voice rang out excitedly. ‘Have you picked her yet?’
‘Yes. She’s lovely.’ Tara exclaimed, tears forming in her eyes. She didn’t bother to wipe them away. These were tears she didn’t want to hold back. ‘We’re taking her home now.’
‘Well, I can’t wait to meet her. I’ll be there in a moment.’
Imade had just picked Ehis up from school, and was eager to see Tara’s little girl. However, she stalled and veered her car to the side of the road, caught in the valley of indecision whether to drop her son at home first before going over. She and Ehis hadn’t seen Dapo since the incident at the police station and she had vowed he would never see his son again. Should she break her promise now?
‘The Lord must be at work,’ she mused. Resolved, she maneuvered the car back onto the road and drove on. At the Kolade’s door, she paused and heaved deeply, holding her son firmly by the hand. The look of delight on Ehis’ face when he saw his father was priceless. He had not forgotten the fatherly kindness he had received and without hesitation rushed into Dapo’s open arms. Dapo was equally thrilled, as he led him into the living room where Tara was waiting with Precious. Imade followed behind.
‘Thanks for bringing him over,’ Dapo said.
Imade nodded. ‘I know we’ve had our disagreements about how Ehis should be raised. I’m not here to cast aspersions on you, but quite honestly, I’ve never fully understood what possessed you to take him that day. Tara and I may have settled our differences, but I had told myself that I would never let you see Ehis again.’
As she spoke, Imade realized the fight was gone from her. God was perfecting the healing process and she had reached the end of her battle. Dapo and Tara stared at her, waiting for her to continue.
‘What are you saying?’ Tara urged gently.
‘I’ve been thinking about what’s best for Ehis and have decided that I don’t want to keep him away from you anymore. It’s only natural that a father will want to build a relationship with his son. So I’m allowing Ehis to spend time with you, now and again. What do you say? Is this a deal or not?’
Dapo didn’t reply immediately. Lost in thought, he kept his eyes on the floor. Imade would always be Ehis’ primary care-giver. To continue fighting her would be a losing battle. He was willing to reach a truce if only it would allow him to be a part of his son’s life. Tara nudged him gently and when he looked up, his smile had returned.
‘Deal!’ he said, accepting the olive branch which Imade extended to him. Who would have thought she would change her mind like this?
‘God bless you Imade.’ Tara said, relieved that the long standing feud had finally come to an end. Dapo left the living room with his son, while the two women squealed like excited teenagers as they fussed over Precious. The little girl gurgled in delight, enjoying the attention.
‘The adoption was a tedious process,’ Tara said. ‘My husband was averse to the idea at the beginning, but somehow, we did it.’
‘Dapo loves you very much,’ Imade said, without malice. ‘Your coming to Pro-Touch got me thinking; he let you work with me despite his reservations and that made me realize that I shouldn’t hold on too tightly to Ehis either.’
‘Well, God uses the unlikeliest people to teach us lessons. Remember the prophet Balaam and how God used a donkey to restrain his madness?’ Tara smiled, cuddling Precious closer to her. ‘Listen, I’m going to suggest something and I’d like you to keep an open mind about it, okay?’
She waited for Imade’s nod of agreement before continuing. ‘I was talking to my colleague recently about you and our experience working together at Pro-Touch. I showed him a few pictures we took together during some of our events. Now he wants to meet you.’
Imade lifted one eyebrow in surprise. ‘I don’t like blind dates,’ she protested. ‘They are usually so awkward.’
‘That’s not true. And how would you know anyway? Have you ever been on one? Tony is a wonderful guy; single and a believer.’
‘Did you tell him about my son?’ Imade asked skeptically.
Tara shook her head. ‘You can tell him yourself when you meet him.’
‘Great, trust you to leave out such an important detail.’
‘Come on,’ Tara urged. ‘Just give it a try. If he likes you, he’ll accept your son as well.’
Imade was thoughtful. It had been so long since she had a whiff of romance in her life. It seemed strange how she had been highly sought-after back in school; but these days, men seemed to shy away from her. Something had gone wrong down the line; it was either they were intimidated by her seeming success, put off because she had a son, or just saw her as, how did a friend at church put it again?, an old maid.
However, she wasn’t only concerned about Tony’s acceptance of her son, but his acceptance of her boundaries as well. She could still remember her encounter with Denis, whom she had met the previous year. Denis hadn’t expected any reservations from her as far as intimacy was concerned, given that she already had a son. He was rather taken aback when she declared that her warm, cozy bedroom was out of bounds.
‘You know how I feel about you,’ he had said. ‘Don’t shut me out.’
When she explained to him that she had compromised once and wasn’t going to do so a second time, he seemed put off by what he called her conflicting vibes.
‘Isn’t that like locking the stable after the horse has escaped?’ he had asked.
‘No. It just means that I picked myself up after the fall.’
He didn’t call her again after that and Imade was extremely disappointed. All these years, she had been absorbed with her career and taking care of her son. Ehis was five years old already and she too was not getting any younger. It would be great to find love again. More than once, she reached for her phone to call him and say they could work something out and just as many times, she withdrew her hand again. Till finally, she asked herself, ‘Imade, what are you thinking?’
She could not, out of desperation, give in to those fickle echoes of ‘our love makes it okay.’ Rather, she would hold to that quiet assurance which told her that in spite of everything; not too far away was a man who would affirm how much he truly cared for her by waiting till after they said their ‘I do’s’. But, she wouldn’t know if Tony was that man, until she met him first. She considered Tara’s suggestion and eventually gave in.
‘I guess I have nothing to lose by giving it a try, right?’
Tara smiled. ‘I’ll give him your number.’
Imade was tired but in heart, she celebrated Dapo and Tara’s new milestone. Precious was a gem and she would brighten their lives. She and Ehis had barely arrived home, when her phone rang.
‘Good evening,’ a male voice on the other end of the line sounded. ‘Is this Imade?’
‘Yes it is,’ she replied slowly. ‘Who’s this?’
‘Hi, this is Tony; Tara’s friend.’
Imade gulped. That was fast. Tara didn’t waste any time, did she?
‘Hello Imade, are you there?’
‘Yes, yes I am. Hello Tony.’
‘I hope you don’t mind my calling. Tara talks about you a lot,’ he said. ‘She has a very high opinion of you. I was wondering if we could, you know, get together this Saturday.’
Imade checked her calendar and shook her head. ‘My Saturday is booked,’ she told him. ‘I’m taking my son to a party.’
‘Yes.’ Imade replied. ‘I’m a single mum.’
Her words were well thought out. Tony might as well know about Ehis right away. It was too early to draw any conclusions about his intentions but she would save herself a lot of heartache by being forthright. They hadn’t met yet and if he wanted to retract his request, now would be the perfect time for him to do so.
It’s no big deal Tara had said He’ll either accept Ehis or he won’t. From Imade’s previous experiences, the odds were, he wouldn’t. But she was prepared. It wouldn’t be the first time an admirer would back out because she was a single mother and she was slowly getting used to it.
Tony, however, didn’t seem deterred. ‘It sounds like fun,’ he said. ‘Am I invited?’
She gave it a quick thought. ‘Sure,’ she said. ‘It starts at 3p.m.’
‘Great, just tell me where to pick you guys up.’
Tony took Imade to Taste Buds restaurant. It was late in the evening and the moon cast its light over the ripples of water making them shimmer. They sat in the courtyard overlooking the lagoon, enjoying the lovely scenery.
Imade looked equally radiant. Her make-up had been applied to give an almost natural finish, but it was the joy that radiated from within her that gave her the extra glow.
‘Who would have thought Pro-Touch could come this far?’ she commented. ‘My two new employees are keeping busy.’
With the aggrieved customers off her back and the scandalous incident far behind her, Imade discovered that Pro-Touch was growing bigger than what she alone could handle. It was obvious that trying to hold the business down all by herself was stalling her progress.
‘At this rate, Pro-Touch will soon be taking over the world,’ she declared.
Tony laughed. ‘One thing I know; those two ladies have some big shoes to fill,’ he commented, remembering the impressive referral Imade had made about Tara.
Imade nodded in affirmation. ‘With the right controls this time,’ she added. ‘The younger one is docile. She seems content to just take orders and do as she’s told. I hope to ignite some passion in her.’
‘You’re extremely contagious,’ Tony replied with a laugh. ‘It would be impossible to hang around you and not catch the spark.’
He smiled at her and sent her heart racing. ‘What’s tomorrow’s date?’ he asked.
The next day would be the 18th of March and Imade told him so. He waited for some sort of recollection from her but she just stared at him blankly.
‘Do you realize that today makes exactly one year since we met?’ He glanced at his watch. ‘Around this time last year, I dropped you and Ehis off after his weekend party.’
‘Oh?’ It hadn’t occurred to her.
‘It’s been a wonderful year, hasn’t it?’ he asked tenderly.
She paused. The year had been extra special for her because she and Tony had fallen head over heels in love. It was that kind of unexplainable affection that made everyone else seem like a shadow when they were together. Yet, she had stayed true to her faith and Tony had agreed to play by the rules. She was glad they kept their love pure and she almost felt as though God was smiling down on them.
‘One life-changing year,’ she affirmed.
‘So you have no objections if I want to make you my wife?’ His eyes spoke volumes as he pulled out a little black case. Still holding her gaze, he opened it to expose a gold ring with a solitaire diamond. ‘I love you Imade,’ he said. ‘Will you marry me?’
She covered her mouth with her right hand as he took her left and slipped the ring unto her finger. When he let go of her hand, she stretched it out to admire the gold band with its glistening diamond rock. His eyes met hers in an affirmation of his devotion to her.
Imade laughed heartily. ‘Yes, I will.’
The breeze blew over the surface of the lagoon and swept gently towards them, caressing their faces. Tony poured out some fruit cocktail into two glasses and handed one to her.
‘To us,’ he said, as he raised his glass and clicked it against hers.
‘To us,’ she echoed.
‘Well, well, well!’ Tara exclaimed, waving the invitation card proudly. ‘Our matchmaking plot turned out quite all right.’
Dapo took the card from her and read it. ‘This is great,’ he declared. ‘I’m glad it worked out.’
‘You know, everyone at the office has been wondering who the lucky lady to capture Tony’s heart will be.’ Tara continued. ‘But he was waiting for the right one and now he has found her. Don’t you think he and Imade make a great couple? They’re so in sync with each other and he absolutely adores Ehis.’ She let out a laugh. ‘If Imade knew that it was your idea to hook them up, she would never have agreed to it.’
‘Then I’m glad we didn’t tell her,’ Dapo replied. ‘It was the least I could do. If Ehis is to have a step father, then I’m happy it will be someone like Tony. He is a great guy and I’m sure Imade will be the envy of a lot of ladies.’
Tara shook her head. ‘I’m the enviable one,’ she declared, ‘to be blessed with a wonderful husband like you.’ She took Dapo by the hand and sat him down on the sofa. ‘Honey, we can make this marriage work, can’t we?’ she asked, ‘especially with Precious and the new baby coming?’
He looked at her questioningly. ‘New baby?’
She nodded. ‘I went to see the doctor this morning about my giddiness.’ Her voice shook. ‘Dapo, I’m pregnant.’
She smiled. ‘Isn’t that remarkable?’
Dapo was astonished. It would be remarkable if only it were true. ‘But, how could that be? Doctor Collins said...’
‘That I could never have children, right?’ she interjected gently. ‘He was wrong.’
He laid a hand over her tummy as though expecting to feel something. With the other hand, he brushed her cheek. ‘Honey, are you sure?’
She nodded and smiled. He hadn’t spoken to her so tenderly in a long while. ‘It’s confirmed.’
Letting out a long, loud laugh, Dapo hugged her. ‘I never thought...’ his voice trailed off, as he looked pensive. ‘Now that I think back, we never bothered to get a second opinion after receiving Dr Collins’ report almost five years ago.’
‘I did honey. I got God’s opinion and I chose to believe His report.’
She leaned forward and kissed him, feeling awed at the life growing within her; a life that nullified the report which had previously declared her barren.
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