The first thing I saw was his shoes.
A pair of smoky grey suede drivers, with black silk socks peeking over the top. His feet were crossed at the ankles, leaving his shoe sole just a few centimeters away from my very expensive mahogany desk.
What cheek! I thought. Who was this one that had the nerve to come into my office before me and put his Lord-knows-where-they’ve-been shoes on my pristine desk! Okay! Whatever he wanted here, he just lost every chance of getting it.
I went round the desk and dropped my bag on it with a loud thud.
“Hey! I didn’t hear you come in. Good morning!”
He said this as he took out two small earphones from his ears that I hadn’t noticed before and stretched out his hand for a handshake. I ignored his outstretched hand and sat down.
I smoothed my hand over my hair which was drawn into a tight bun, away from my face. Every strand was in place. I crossed my legs and clasped my hands in front of me, and spoke in the gravest, calmest tone I could muster.
“Good morning. Who are you and what do you want here?”
“Whoa. That’s cold.”
He said this, while plonking himself into the chair on the other side of the table. And then he smiled revealing an almost perfect set of white teeth. Almost perfect because one of the top front incisors was chipped and it made his smile kind of mischievous.
He wore a navy blue and white striped long-sleeved shirt with matching navy blue trousers. The grey Ralph Lauren pullover he wore over the shirt hugged his frame, fueling my imagination of what lay beneath. He had rolled up his shirt sleeves, Obama style.
Hey Chinwe! Focus. Focus!
I decided to fix him with my coldest stare.
His big brown eyes met mine. Those eyes were full of mischief. Hungry for adventure. And they also spelled trouble.
“Will you introduce yourself, please. Or do I….”
“Kene. Kenechukwu Igwe. I’m here on behalf of my father, Mr. Marius Igwe. He says he’d like me to see the designs you have ready for the re-branding campaign and..”
“Oh. I see. Sure.” My face softened a bit. His father was one of my firm’s top clients. And he was such a sweet, old man. I liked working for him.
But I wasn’t sure I liked working with his son.
We spent the rest of the morning poring over color charts, logos, designs, digital prints, etcetera. I was really impressed at how much Kene knew. I wondered why his father hadn’t gotten him to do it instead. So I asked him.
“Me? I’m too playful. Too unserious. It would take me forever to get everything arranged as neatly as you have done here. I..I can’t sit still. I’d rather be out there doing something dangerous and exciting.”
“Oh, really? That’s interesting.”
“You don’t do any crazy, exciting stuff, do you?
“All the excitement and craziness I need is right here, in this room.” I waved my hand across the room, with a smile.
“And he doesn’t mind?”
“Your boyfriend. A beautiful woman like you wouldn’t be without one.”
I don’t know whether it was the way he said it or the way his eyes danced and the light in the room played with the dimple on his right cheek that made my cheeks warm and I lowered my gaze. I didn’t want the look in my eyes to betray me.
I did have a boyfriend. David. Good looking. Wealthy family. CEO. He loved me because I was elegant. “The kind of girl his parents would approve of”. I looked good beside him in the tabloids and at the high society parties I had to attend with him every weekend. I loved him because being with him gave me some kind of power…importance…validity. I loved him because he was so not like Kene. David had never used the word ‘beautiful’ in the same sentence as my name. Well, not in the way Kene used it.
Why was I even comparing them anyway?
“So, we’re taking this turquoise instead of the teal, right?” Kene’s voice pulled my thoughts back onto the papers spread on the table before us. He left an hour later. Another satisfied client. I was pleased.
I decided to leave the office early and get some grocery supplies before heading home. David was in Dubai on one of his business trips and wouldn’t be back for another couple of weeks.
Where on earth was this cab driver?
I had a cab driver I paid to chauffeur me around town whenever I didn’t feel like driving and he had promised me he’d be here. I hated having to wait. Just then, I spotted his cab making the turn into the office complex. He stopped just in front of where I stood.
“Haliru, you’re late.” I said as he drove off onto the main road.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. It took a while for me to convince him.”
The driver took off the baseball cap he was wearing and smiled at me, revealing his chipped front incisor.
“Stop this car this minute and let me out! I’m going to scream rape.”
“There’ll be no need for that, dear Chinwe. We’re almost there.”
A few turns in the road later, he got out of the car and opened the door for me to get out.
“Best to leave this here. It’ll be safer.” He took my handbag and hid it underneath the front seat.
“Where are you taking me?”
“Come with me. Let me show you some of the crazy, exciting things that I love.”
He led me to a row of roadside open air barbecue vendors. He pointed to some grilled fish and plantains. The vendor wrapped them in some foil and handed him a very small plastic tub filled with some dark sauce. He stopped at another vendor and bought some water and two soft drinks. By the look of the bottles, I could tell that they were insanely cold.
Few minutes later, we were walking back to the car. He spread the “feast” on the car bonnet and lifted me by the waist to sit on it. The car bonnet was comfortingly warm in the cold October evening. Some highlife music wafted across from a barbershop across the street.
“This is boli.” He said, pointing at the grilled plantains. “And this is grilled fish and shitto.” This time pointing to the fish and the dark sauce in the plastic tub. “And all this is what I call my Fiery Cold Fiesta.”
I sat there nodding. Chinwe the articulate, was for the first time in her life, speechless.
He opened the cold water bottle and took a long drink. Then, he broke off a piece of the plantain, dipped it in the sauce and put it in my mouth. I wasn’t expecting it to be so wickedly spicy. My lips formed an ‘o’ as I tried to inhale and exhale through my mouth trying to douse the flames.
“Water, please!’ I gasped, my eyes closed.
Kene doused the flames in my mouth with his cold, sweet tongue and lips, pushing the warmth of the flames to somewhere between my breasts.
I think I like this Fiery Cold Fiesta, I said to myself as I slid my arm around his neck.