Femi Adegbola was a widower in his early thirties. He was tall and dark, a little bit chubby which hid his largeness. He was a graduate of civil engineering and he worked with a construction company. He was always at work for two weeks and at home for the next two weeks. Femi was the type of guy that did whatever he wanted to do without letting people talk him into doing it, but this time, he had let Mary talk him into teaching her young boss how to drive. It was not as if he could not decline but he was fascinated by Lillian’s pig-headedness. He was curious, he wanted to know more about Lillian, the only way he could do that was to get close to her, and the only way he could get close was to teach her to drive.
As he had said, Femi got to Lillian’s house at exactly 4:55pm. He was familiar with the sound that greeted him when he was allowed into the compound. He wanted to go and pat them on the back and have a little play especially with the Welsh corgi, but he knew he would run late. There could always be another time, he mulled over, and all he needed to do was to come some minutes earlier.
The sound from the dogs brought Mary out of the house; she beamed as she saw Femi. She thought she would use the opportunity to apologize to him before her mistress came out. “Uncle Femi, you are welcome” she started with greeting.
“Mary, how do you do?” he asked calmly even though he was nursing a little annoyance against her.
“Fine thank you, Uncle Femi, am sorry for what happened yesterday” he did not have to tell her before she knew he was angry. She knew he had a good job and did not need an extra one, especially not the one that downgraded him, but he was her best option. He was educated and would be a very good teacher.
“Is she always like that, cantankerous?” he raised his brow.
“No” Mary said defensively, she wished she could tell him her Mistress was frustrated, but she knew how inquisitive Femi could be at times. Besides, whatever that was happening in their house should not be heard by ears outside. “No” she said again affirmatively.
“Okay” he replied not the least convinced. He did not expect Mary to tell him she was like that.
Lillian came out of the house expecting to see him and she was not disappointed. He looked calmer than he did yesterday; his dressing was different from what it was the previous day. He was dressed in a round neck and a short. Lillian moved slowly so she could access him very well. She did access him not for anything but because she wanted to be sure, of whom she would be working with or rather, from whom she would be taking lessons.
Femi was taken aback at the sight of Lillian. He saw her yesterday but she was not as ravishing as she looked now. He could not help but to stare, he suddenly became oblivious of Mary who was still standing before him. He noticed that she was prepared for the lesson; she was dressed casual almost like him, in a round neck and a tight-fitted jeans. Femi knew he had to be careful, he was just a tutor, he reminded himself.
“Good evening Mr?” She greeted with an inquiry for his name.
Femi smiled. He understood that she was trying to cover up for her previous wrong and he didn’t want to make it any harder for her than he already did, so he complied.
“Femi. Good evening” he said with a reciprocal smile.
She felt relieved when he smiled. She was not always comfortable when she made people uncomfortable, and she knew she had made Femi.
“Can we start now? We are five minutes behind time.” Femi said.
“Of course, the Camry” she gave him the key.
Without waiting for any direction, he went straight to where the car was parked, He did a little scrutiny, and it was the latest model. He was not surprised because everything he had been seeing so far amalgamated. He opened the driver’s side and hopped in. From the side mirror, he saw that Lillian was still standing. He honked for her to come in.
It had been ten days since she started her learning. Luckily for her, Femi rescheduled her training to two times a day; morning and evening, which really helped her.
She could drive anything now. Femi had been a very good teacher. He never scolded her if she did not know when to apply the brakes or accelerate. He had taught her carefully not leaving out all the things she needed to know about a car. She had misjudged him when she first saw her, now she liked him, very much.
All was going well for Lillian, the learning, her freedom and her friendship until she received that call.
Lillian had just entered the house when her phone rang. She had gone to see her mother. She scrambled for the phone in her bag, she was enthusiastic; she had not heard from Femi that day and she thought it was him. She was disappointed at her own enthusiasm when she discovered it was not him but Richard calling. It was when she missed the first ring that it struck her he had not called for three days and she had not even noticed. Her mind had been occupied; really occupied.
She was already seated on the couch she liked to relax on when the call came in again, she picked it up. He had call her to tell her that he was coming back home in the next forty-eight hours. A part of her did not want him to come back, at least not soon. However, she knew she had to continue her life’s journey, with him. Her phone rang again, the curve didn’t come even though she tried to smile, it was Femi calling.
“I want to host you tomorrow” he said from the other end of the receiver.
“Why?” still trying to find her smile.
“To celebrate you. You are now a capable driver, though you would have to drive often for more skills”
She chuckled, saying nothing. Capable, she mused. He had deliberately not said expert, for she was not one yet, but she was capable, indeed.
Since she didn’t refuse, he concluded she wanted to celebrate. “I‘d come pick you by six”
“Okay” She found her smiles just when the call had ended. She was now a capable driver; good for her, she thought.
He came as promised. For almost thirty seconds, both of them could not stop staring at each other. Femi was speechless at her ravishing beauty. He had been seeing her for almost two weeks now, but he had never seen her like that. She was always in shorts and loose tops. Now she was wearing a black short gown that revealed her curves. He noticed that she was carrying a new hairdo, which added complements to her looks. By the time, he came back to his senses, he saw the look in her eyes and he thought she did not like how he looked, even though he knew he looked good.
Lillian was breathless. She had been seeing him for almost two weeks, but she had never seen him look like he was looking. She had always seen him in baggy shorts and round necks. Now he was wearing a fitted blazer with a black shirt. She noticed he had cut his hair and was having a nice shave, which added complements to his looks. By the time she came back to her senses, she saw the look in his eyes and she thought he didn’t like how she looked, even though she knew she was looking good, not after all the minutes she had spent before the mirror.
She broke the silence. “You certainly were not expecting me in my training outfit, were you?” she inquired not certain of his look.
“You are perfect. You look entrancing” he could not help but tell her.
“Thank you” She wanted to tell him that he looked good, but she decided it was best she kept it to herself.
He thought she was going to say more, she didn’t. “Shall we?”
“Where are we going?”
“Your house?” he was just her friend, she chewed over, and she could at least visit a friend in his house.
She noticed that the building was newly painted. When she got inside, she didn’t expect what she saw. With the way he dressed, she had envisioned how his house was going to look, but now she was disappointed, in herself. She had always misjudged him. The house was quite except for the shouting chandeliers. The living room was bright and it didn’t look like it was late in the evening. The living room was not as big as hers was but nothing was missing in it. With everything she saw, she could define his taste. He was debonair and fastidious; at least the paintings on the walls told her so.
Femi gave her space to explore the cozy room with her eyes before he offered her a seat. He excused himself after she had taken the weight off her feet. He could not believe his luck that he could get her to come to his house. He knew she was tough, maybe for the first few days the learning started. However, later she eased herself and they started talking. He told her about his job, and she told him about her marriage.
It took him time and energy before he was able to persuade her to tell him about it. Even though Femi felt sorry for her when she told him about her husband and the way he treated her. He discovered that she had conceit and ego that would not make her go about telling people her problems. He liked that one thing about her, her pride.
He returned to the living room with the meal he had prepared, complementing it with a bottle of red wine. He called her to table.
Lillian, still clutching to her purse stood up and made for the dinning. She sat down on the chair he had drawn out for her. She watched him dish the food. She could not remember the last time Richard treated her like that, the last time he served her, that was if he ever did. The aroma from the food brought her back from her travel.
“This is smelling nice” she commented
“Thanks” he replied beaming, almost flattered. However, he noticed that she was distant; he knew she had been distressed and disturbed lately. He silently hoped that all would be well with her. Femi unscrewed the wine, the noise that accompanied the sputtering made Lillian exclaim. Now the table was set, and it was time they ate. Femi got settled on the chair conflicting Lillian’s, where he could see her face.
“Would you pray?” he asked politely, looking straight into her eyes.
She shifted her gaze from him as she closed her eyes and started to pray.“Dear Lord” she called.
She had almost finished praying before he closed his eyes. He had been carried away, he knew she would not be comfortable if she caught him looking at her; but he just could not help it. He liked her and there was something about her that his other friends did not possess.
They ate most part of the meal in silence, saying one or few things. Lillian enjoyed the meal so much, not because she had not tasted something like that before, of course, it was fried rice garnished with salad and turkey, but because he had told her, he made it by himself. The meal was too delicious to be cooked by a male, she thought. She had not expected it to be that delicious; once again, she had underrated him and she felt sorry.
He knew something was going on in her, but what it was, he didn’t know. He wanted to find out but soon thrust aside the thought. He concentrated on his leftovers only to be shortly distracted by her giggle. He noticed that before then, the mood was uptight; her giggle had brought relief to him. But as much as he liked the sound it made and the smile it brought to her face, he was confused. He looked at her inquisitorially.
Lillian knew she needed to reply his look. He had not said anything but he had asked her what was wrong, with his look. She looked at him and smiled more, she was enjoying what the suspense was doing to him.
He knew she understood his look, but he thought of conveying it in words for clarity. “ are you okay”
“Of course” now she was laughing.
He looked down at her plate and discovered that she had finished everything in it. He thought she needed more but was shy to ask. “More?”
“Not at all, am full. Thanks” she took a sip of her wine.
He was more confused, he didn’t know what could have possibly caused the giggle.” So what was wrong?” he asked.
“The meal was delicious, thanks. When you told me you made it, i had expected it to be flawed with something,” she laughed again.
Now he was laughing too. “You expected it to be piquant, peppery or bland, right?”
“Yes or even half cooked.”
“Am a good cook, I lived with my grandma after my graduation; she taught me how to cook. I was fast losing my cooking skills until i started again” he paused for some seconds after my wife passed” he managed to smile.
Lillian’s smile faded lazily “oh! Am so sorry.”
He gulped the remaining drink in his cup at once and he stood up. He packed the used dishes and made straight for the kitchen. He was not surprised when he saw Lillian bring the rest. She offered to help him dry as he washed them. He would have hesitated, but he didn’t, because he knew she was handy and would not concede to his refusal.
“Why didn’t you tell me” she asked quietly. She was surprised that he did not even mention it to her while she rambled about her own marriage.
“The thought of it brings pain” he confessed. “She died at child labor”
She lost grip, and the plate she was holding dropped. The silence that followed the clang was long. Even though the plate laid shattered on the floor, neither of them moved. Lillian was more than sorry, she was devastated. She had managed to digest the fact that his wife died, but she could not withstand how. How could she have died while laboring? She asked herself in her head.
Femi looked at the broken piece. “She left me like this, broken” he smiled as a tear ran down his cheek.
She understood his kind of smile. She gave it a lot too, when she was in pain. “Am sorry” she murmured.
“She died” he affirmed. “My son made it” he started picking the broken pieces.
" Am glad” she said, and quickly added “that he at least made it” She wanted to ask him questions, to know how long it had been but she didn’t want him to hurt more than he was already hurting.
As if he heard her thoughts, he added. “He is with my mother; he would be three next month”
She opened her mouth to talk, she didn’t know what to say, she shut it back and helped him in picking the pieces. Obviously he had answered the question of how long it was.
They went back to the living room silently. “I do not like to tell people about this experience, it only brings about this atmosphere”
Lillian managed a smile. ‘I can imagine’ she stated, and quickly added “He must be as cute as you are”
Femi laughed and confirmed. “You bet”
She joined in his laugh, and was glad that he was out of that mood. Lillian carefully took her clutch where she had placed it; her instinct told her she would have missed some calls. She brought out her phone from the purse and saw eight missed calls. She had put her phone on silence because she didn’t want anybody to mar her evening. She checked the missed calls and discovered that someone had called her with an unknown number three times, and somebody else had called from her house. It must have been Mary who had called her, she thought. She quickly called back. The phone rang for almost three times before someone picked it. For five seconds she could not reply the person on the other end, shock loped in her core. She had not thought of it for once that he might want to surprise her.
“Hello” She finally found her voice, though feeble.
Femi could tell from the look of things that something was wrong. What it was, he could not decipher. He thought it was best if he waited patiently for her to be through before he started asking questions.
She searched with her eyes for his wall clock, found it before she replied whatever question she must have been asked. “I went to see a friend, am on my way” she lied. She had actually not lied about going to see a friend but she had lied that she was on her way home. She didn’t like to tell lies but now she had to, it was a lie of necessity which even webbed her.
Richard knew she had no close friends, at least not again. She had gone to see none in the past few years and known had come to visit in the past months. They had complained that she didn’t return their visits and they had stopped coming.
Whom would she tell him she went to visit? Was it Elisabeth who had married and stayed abroad, or Eyitayo who had relocated to Port Harcourt? She had wanted to say she was in her mother’s house, but she knew he must have probed the maid and one of them would have told him someone came to pick her, besides, he knew she would not wear the kind of gown she was wearing to her mother’s house. It didn’t look casual.
Femi did not hear the voice from the other end, but he deduced it could not be Mary, but must be somebody waiting at home for her.
“On my way” she yelled, before she ended the call. She sighed heavily before she turned to face Femi. “I have to leave now, please” she said without letting her anger transfer.
“Who was it?”
“Richard, my husband”
Femi was surprised even as Lillian had been, and all he could say was “Wow!” but I thought you said he was not in town.
“He was not, until now. Take me to the carport”
“No, I will take you home”
“No. The car-park, I will board a taxi from there”
He knew without asking what she was doing. She had told him she went to a friend’s place, and she would not want him to see someone drop her with a car, which was not a cab, especially with a male driver. “Okay”. He led her outside to where he had parked his car. He waited for her to hop in before he did. He honked and as soon as the gate was open, he sped off, to the car park.
Before she got down, she made him know that she truly enjoyed her evening with him, and that he had been a good friend. She laid emphasis on her last statement so whatever message she did not say, he understood well.
He would not have believed her but for the smiles that emanated from her face. “ I will call you” he paused before he added “ tomorrow” he knew it would not be nice to call her this night, not when she would possibly be having a tiff.
“Let me call you instead”. She waited to see him nod before she boarded a cab.
He waited for the cab to move before he started back to his house. He had had a nice evening with her. He liked everything about her except, of course the way she treated him the first time they met, she was discourteous, but he understood that she was distressed. Now, his friends list had increased by one.
Lillian allowed her mind to wander about the evening she had just had. She wanted to leave the troubles of home for home; she was going to deal with that when she got home. However, as much as she did not want to think about the looming quarrel, she could not get her mind off it. Her heart felt a glitch as she consulted her wristwatch for the umpteenth time. Her eyes fell on her gown, and for the first time in that day, she regretted having putting it on. She wished the cup would pass over her. She silently prayed for a miracle.
She remembered the last time she wore the gown. He had bought it for her as a gift on their second wedding anniversary. Richard had insisted that she put it on to the anniversary party. Everybody at the party could not but look her twice; the gown was not so short, but it had done some kind of makeover on her curves. Richard had been very happy with himself, and when they got back home that night, he made her feel like a woman, a real one.
As if she was the answer needed, Mary stood at the gate. She was impatiently nervous, waiting for Lillian. Immediately she saw Lillian alight from the cab, she leaped forward from where she had been standing like a lost chick who just found its mother.
She did not even wait to collect her balance from the taxi driver before she waved him off; she read the look on Mary’s face and knew not all was well. Lillian had not bargained for this, but somehow she knew she would fight it, she had to.
“Oga is back” that was Mary’s greetings. She knew there was no time for pleasantries, even though she was interested and wanted to know how the evening went.
“I know he called me” she was calm as if she really had everything in control.
“Here Aunty” she gave her the dress she had been holding. She knew the genesis of the dress Lillian was wearing; she knew that if Richard saw it on her hell would break loose. He had bought it for her and he instructed her when to put it on, and it was on special occasions.
A wave of relief swept Lillian off her feet. Now she would be able to stand up to whatever was coming. She knew that if he saw the gown on her she would be defenseless; he would think she went on a date or a party. If he thought so, he would not have been so wrong, but somehow she did not want him to think of it at all.
“Thank you.” She followed her inside. Lillian was so thankful to Mary; she had saved her from another tiff that night. She was always there for her like a superwoman, maybe she was.
She had always been there for her, Mary thought as she led the way inside. She retreated into the kitchen because she could not bear to watch another that night. After Mary’s first year with Lillian and her husband, her mother fell ill. Mary was the eldest daughter and child of her mother so she needed to be with her sometimes. When she told Lillian, at first, she had given her three hours off every day, but later, there was need for her to sleep at the hospital overnight. She had only told Lillian to fulfill the righteousness of asking, not that she was expecting to be granted the permission, but Lillian had surprised her.
“I was going to ask you to take some days off “Lillian had replied when she told her. Mary was overwhelmed at her boss’s large heart. She knelt to thank her but was stopped and embraced before she got to the floor. She had worked two places before she came to work for Lillian, none of her mistresses treated her well, the one who did, her children didn’t. Lillian was different, she was genteel and mild, and if one took time to study her, one would discover that she’s fun to be with.
One of the days she went to the hospital, as the eldest child, the doctor had called her into his office and told her that her mother would undergo an operation. He told her that a certain amount had to be paid before the operation could proceed. The money was much, she thought of where she could go. She could not go to her paternal family; she knew they would not do anything because they even wanted her mother dead. And the only person she could turn to was Lillian for an upfront of her salary.
Mary knew that Lillian could possibly need nothing from her because she had nothing and Lillian had everything, but Mary had promised herself to do all she could for Lillian. And one of which was to be loyal to her, because she had paid her mother’s hospital bill not with the upfront of the salary she had asked, but with her own money.
Her father died when she was just twelve and then her mother had just given birth to her last son. As far as she could remember, her mother went to hell, even she was affected by its combustion. They all went to their village for the burial, but all kinds of right were performed before and after the burial. Her mother was locked in a dark room for several days with her hair shaven. She had to look after her two brothers, and it was not easy for her, because even she was still a kid who needed to be fended for. At the early age of twelve, life had thought her how to be responsible to and for things. At first, it was difficult for her to take care of her six-month-old baby brother. She begged them to allow her mother feed him with milk, but they refused and said her mother was evil that she killed her husband.
After they passed through the village hurdle, they were faced with another barely two months that they got back to Lagos. Her father’s brothers came over and told them to vacate the house and that they could only remain on one condition. They would remain if her mother would levirate. Her mother did not agree because she knew every of the brothers that were opened to options were brutes. Even if she wanted to, the only person she could have remarried was the youngest brother, and she was too old for him. The only reason she could have picked him was that throughout the whole storm, he had been the only one who offered to help them.
They were chased out of her father’s house. Although they offered to take care of the three children, but her mother told them she could not leave her children for fear of what they might do to them. Her mother used the little money she saved while she was working to get them a smaller and affordable apartment. She went back to her place of work but she was told that someone else had taken over her position. She tried for months before she was able to get a secretarial job, which did not pay well. For a whole year, Mary missed school. By the time she went back, she had to retake a class, and she changed school because her mother could not cope with the amount of the former.
With her mother’s meager salary, she paid the house rent; she paid hers and her immediate brother’s fees in school. And at the end of each year, she managed to buy them a pair of new clothes which happens to be the only new clothes they get throughout the year. By the time Mary was in her final class in high school, things became harder, because then, her last brother had gotten into school. Now her mother had to pay for the three of them. She wrote her final exams at the age of eighteen, and when she did, she was determined not to rewrite it and she didn’t. She made all papers at once. Rather than her taking the next exam to further, she decided to help her mother, and she went in search of a job against her mother’s wish. After two places, she found Lillian.
Richard was in the living room. He sat on the sofa shaking his legs impatiently. He was watching a TV program which appeared boring to him not because it was, but because he was not paying attention. He moved his head at every movements and sound he heard. Even though he had the idea of what the time might be, he still consulted his wristwatch at every passing glance.
“Richard” Lillian called with a smile on her face as she stepped in the living room.
The anger in him found a way of escape. He was paralyzed, charmed by her smile, he let go whatever it was he wanted to do to her. It had always melted him, her smile.
Lillian prayed silently in her heart, she knew that her smile and charm were faked, but she needed to put them on at least to get a pass that night. As much as she tried, she could not decipher the look on his face, maybe he was angry or tired but definitely not excited. She advanced. “How was your journey? I have missed you” still smiling.
He stood up and hugged her. “I have missed you too”.
“So how was your journey?” she reiterated.
“It was good”
“You look tired, have you heard something to eat?”
“Yes, I have”
“I didn’t know you’d be coming back today”
“It was meant to be a surprise” even though he told her in forty-eight hours which was another twenty-four to that time.
Well, I was shocked she did not say it. “I was surprised’ ’she stated in irony.
He wanted to ask her where she was coming from, what she went to do there but he did not want to mar the evening and get all worked up more than he was already. So he decided to settle for the explanations she gave on phone even though he knew she had no friends, at least none had been coming to visit her.
Lillian kept wearing the sham. Now she was able to read through his mind. She knew he wanted to ask her where she was coming from but she didn’t know what was stopping him. She saw him looked at the time, adrenaline leaped inside her.
“It is late” he paused. He saw fear dancing in her eyes and he knew already she was melting like an ice cream placed inside a warmer. Even if it was not in a warmer but out of the refrigerator, it would still melt, somehow the feeling he created in her made him smile. “I need to get some rest” he left her standing and went straight to the bedroom.
She heaved a heavy sigh of relief. She had thought he was going to start asking her questions, which were almost imminent. The arc that was finding its way to her face suddenly became a scowl as she thought of the fact that he actually had cause to question her, but he did not. Now, she even felt more threatened by his silence. If she knew her husband so well, even unequivocal explanations never satisfied him.
He had a lot going through his mind. He wanted to tell her why he travelled. He wanted to confess that it was not just a business trip. But he just couldn’t.
He wanted to ask her about a lot of things which he knew could result into a fight. However, he had promised himself to make peace with her once he got back. He wanted to ask her why she did not call him for once after she got his international number. He wanted to know why she picked his calls only when she wanted. Moreover, he wanted to know if she missed him because he did. He really missed her.