I hope you are having a lovely Christmas. Whatever you do today, don’t forget the real reason for the season – the birth of Jesus, Saviour, Redeemer and Lord.
I am posting a longer excerpt today as a special Christmas present to my readers.
Thanks for stopping by and leaving comments.
Have a wonderful day.
Tola seemed lost in thought and was looking out her window. Yemi had no idea what to say so the ride to the restaurant was made in silence.
He wondered what was going on in that pretty head of hers. She intrigued him. Since she’d found out who he was, he hadn’t noticed her exhibiting any of the flirtatious tendencies most women he met did. On the contrary, she appeared not to want to even have anything to do with him.
He parked in the forecourt of the restaurant and turned to her as he switched off the ignition.
“I’ve been reliably informed that ‘Margaret’s’ is the place to come to for great Nigerian food,” he said.
“I’ve heard equally good things about this place but I’ve never been,” she replied, shrugging like she couldn’t care one way or another.
“Well, let’s go in and find out, shall we?” he said.
“Ouch!” Yemi said as car door slammed into him. She either wasn’t expecting him to open her door again or was in a hurry to get out of such close proximity to him.
“Oh no! I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you,” she said, as she jumped out of the car and held on to his arms looking him over up and down to see if he’d been hurt. “Did I hurt you?”
Yemi was sorely tempted to pretend he was in pain as he wanted to prolong the feeling of her soft hands on his skin. This was also the most vulnerable and approachable she’d been since they met. In truth, the door had barely brushed him and he reluctantly conceded that it would be cruel of him as she looked genuinely mortified.
“I’m fine. And no, you didn’t hurt me.” She looked at him warily as though unsure if he were telling her truth and promptly dropped her hands. “Honestly, I’m ok,” he said, smiling.
He gestured to her to go ahead as they went into the restaurant. He wanted to put his hand on the small of her back but she scooted so far ahead, he made do with sticking his hands into his trouser pockets instead.
A waiter showed them to a table at the far end of the restaurant and handed them some menus. Yemi smiled wryly as he eyed Tola studying the menu as if she would have to take an exam on it later. She seemed determined to do everything she could not to speak him. He wondered how long her silence would last. From the little he knew of her, she didn’t strike him as the shy, retiring type.
After the waiter took the orders and left them, he studied her as she sipped her drink and looked everywhere but at him. Varying expressions crossed her face and she seemed to be fighting some inward battle with herself. He wondered if he could convince her to share her thoughts with him. He didn’t have to wonder to long.
“I don’t appreciate being toyed with,” she snapped. “You must have had a good laugh knowing I worked for Quik IT the whole time.”
His brow creased into a puzzled frown. “What on earth are you talking about? I had no idea who you worked for.”
“Yeah, right!” she rolled her eyes in disbelief.
“I mean it. Your mother gave me your address and number but she didn’t ever mention who you worked for. I only found out when I walked into your boardroom on Monday.”
“I don’t believe you,” she replied stubbornly.
“Look, I don’t really care whether or not you believe me. It’s the truth. I now understand why your mother feels the need to set you up. You couldn’t possibly attract a man worth his salt with that shrewish attitude of yours.” He knew his words were harsh but he was tired of her childish behaviour. He was beginning to regret his impulsive decision to invite her out.
“How dare you? You don’t know a thing about me?” she gasped, her eyes throwing daggers at him.
“I may not know everything about you but I do know that since the first time I spoke to you, you’ve been rude and assumed the worst about me without having even met me. I chose to overlook it as a misunderstanding.
“I asked you to dinner because I thought we could get past that and be friends but I was obviously wrong. I was under the mistaken impression that we could have a meal and some adult conversation but it would seem even that was too much to ask of you,” he glared at her.
“If you have to blackmail a woman to go out to dinner with you, then I don’t know—”
“I’m not sure exactly what your problem is but frankly I don’t want to know. This was a mistake. Come on, I’ll take you back home.” He brought out his wallet and tossed some naira notes on the table, then stood and waited for her to join him.
“You don’t have to worry, I won’t hold your behaviour against your company. We’ve already decided that the deal will go ahead.”
As angry as he was, his eyes were drawn to her back view as walked ahead. Her spine was stiffened in pride and she walked to his car without so much as a backward glance.
Tola, you and your big mouth! Talk about making a fool of oneself. She liked to think of herself as rational and calm but ever since she met Yemi, she’d been uncharacteristically rude. She hadn’t meant to blurt out the accusations, which had turned out to be unfounded anyway. There was just something about Yemi Cole that seemed to bring out the worst in her.
Admittedly she was hostile to him because she thought he was party to her mother’s scheming but even when she’d figured he wasn’t, it still hadn’t stopped her mouthing off. She’d told herself the only reason she was going to dinner with him was because her company’s future depended on it. But if she was honest with herself, she’d have to say that she was curious about him and hoped dinner would give her a chance to get to know him better.
Groaning inwardly, she closed her eyes as she remembered how she’d embarrassed herself. She could kill her mother right now! She most certainly wouldn’t have reacted to him the way she’d done at all if the shadow of her mother’s matchmaking had not been clouding her judgment. To think that, under normal circumstances, Yemi was just sort of guy she would probably go for, now she’d blown even the remotest chance he might be interested in her.
She stole a glance at his profile as he drove in silence. His features were set in a hard look. His hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly, she could see the skin stretched tautly against his knuckles. She admired the grip he was keeping on his temper even though it was clear he was angry. Unfortunately she hadn’t exercised similar control over her emotions.
Whatever preconceptions she may have nursed about Yemi, her behaviour towards him had been reprehensible. She was a grown woman yet she’d acted like a child who couldn’t have its way. Irrespective of how she felt towards him, she owed the man an apology.
The car slowed. She looked up and realised they were back at her flat. As he brought the car to a halt and tried to get out, she put her hand on his arm to stop him.
“You don’t need to get out, I can let myself out. “
He sat back in his seat and held on to the steering wheel, waiting for her to get out of the car.
“You have every right to be mad at me. I’ve behaved abominably and I’m ashamed of myself,” she said quietly. “It’s no excuse but when I heard my mum gave you my contact details, all I could think was she was up to her usual tricks of matchmaking me again. But I had no right to be so disrespectful. I don’t expect you to forgive me but for what it’s worth, I am very sorry.”
Trying hard to rein back the tears that were threatening to drop, she opened the door and got out of the car. She couldn’t wait to get into her flat, lock the door and have a good cry. Just before she got to her front door, his voice reached her.
“Hey, wait up.”
She didn’t turn around as the tears had started to roll down her face. So head down, back hunched, she waited.
“My aunt’s always trying to match make me too.”
He’d come to stand in front of her and she looked up at him. His eyes were crinkled in a smile. She reached into her bag, grabbed a tissue and dabbed her face.
“You’re just saying that to make me feel better,” she sniffed. She couldn’t imagine that a man with his looks and wealth needed any help with his love life.
“I’m serious. You should hear about some of the dates I’ve been out on just to get her off my back.” “Although I have to say, I’ve never left any of the dates before the dinner was served. This is a first for me,” his smiled widened.
“Well, they do say there’s always a first time for everything,” she teased, smiling back.
“Touché,” his eyes twinkled. “I have to admit I’m having more fun now than I’ve had in a very long time. I probably need my head examined but I’d like to see you again.”
Tola looked at him awestruck. She had been so convinced he would be glad to see her back and that would be that. Instead he was saying he wanted to see her again.
“I’d like that too,” she replied shyly. “I’m the one who ruined our dinner tonight, so let me make it up to you. If you’re free on Sunday, let me cook you lunch?”
“Hmm! Sounds like a plan,” he grinned.
“I’ll be here. Goodnight.” He leaned over and brushed her cheeks with his lips. The kiss was so light she couldn’t be sure she hadn’t imagined it. As she pondered on it, she heard his car driving away into the night. Letting herself into the flat, she held her palm over her cheek, savouring his touch.
What a night! Smiling, she got ready for bed. Even though they hadn’t eaten at the restaurant, she didn’t feel hungry. Excitement bubbled within her that he wanted to see her again. Trying hard but rather unsuccessfully to rein in her wild imagination, she pondered on his reasons for wanting to do so. Tempted as she was to come to just one conclusion, she acknowledged that there could be any number of other reasons.
Be still, my treacherous heart! That was her last thought as she drifted off to sleep replaying his kiss over and over again.
PS The rest of the story has been password-protected. If you wish to read more, please contact me for the password at email@example.com. Thanks for reading.
Tola could hardly concentrate on work for the rest of the week. Friday loomed large and was drawing closer with each passing day. During the day, pictures of Yemi Cole standing in the boardroom assailed her brain. Their brief encounter was on constant replay in her mind alternating between different endings. Sometimes she told him what he could do with his invitation in no uncertain terms and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her. Other times, she pictured Yemi gently pulling her into his arms and kissing her passionately.
The nights brought no respite as she dreamed of him every night. Some of the dreams were pleasant with both of them driving off into the sunset in a car with a number plate painted over with the words ‘just married’. In others, he laughed scornfully in her face, berating her for thinking that he could deign to feel anything but contempt and disdain for her.
By Friday afternoon, she was exhausted from talking herself out of calling his office to cancel on him. She convinced herself that it would be unprofessional and detrimental to her company to call him in the office about a personal matter. She didn’t even know whether or not she would reach him directly or if the phone would be answered by an assistant who would ask to take a message.
She was a nervous wreck by the time 7pm rolled round. She’d had no idea how to dress and what sort of look to aim for. It was dinner, not a date but how did one dress for dinner with a multimillionaire? After prevaricating for a while, she settled on a pair of loose-fitting black trousers, a burgundy chiffon top dotted with sequins and matching peep-toe sandals and clutch bag. With one last look in the full length mirror, she judged herself ready to dine with the devil.
As she waited, she fretted over her decision to wear her hair down and not in her usual ponytail. Just when last-minute doubts about her appearance prompted her to go and change it, the door bell rang. Her heart skipped. Taking a few seconds to compose herself, she took in a few breaths before she switched off the lights and walked to the door.
With a final deep breath, she opened the door. Oh boy! Tola thought to herself. The mere sight of Yemi in his dark corduroy trousers and a black fitted shirt was enough to blow her recently shored-up composure out of the water. The top buttons of his shirt were undone revealing short dark curly chest hair over which she wanted to run her palms. The short sleeves showed off his well-toned muscles and a wrist-watch which screamed ‘expensive’. How on earth was she was going to get through dinner without doing something to embarrass herself further?
“Hi,” Tola couldn’t believe her voice had come out sounding like a cat being strangled instead of the sultry, relaxed tone she’d been aiming for.
“Hello,” Yemi replied. “Here. The parcel your mum sent,” he said handing her a large brown envelope, his facial expression giving nothing of his feelings away.
“Thanks. I’ll just put this away and meet you by your car,” this time her voice was a definite improvement on the last time she’d tried to use it even though she’d still missed her target of sultry and relaxing. Tola was grateful for the few minutes of respite that putting the parcel away afforded her. She could recompose herself and fortify herself for the rest of the evening before meeting him again.
She dumped the envelope on her bed and hurried out to the hallway.
“Oh!” she exclaimed when she saw Yemi hadn’t gone to the car like she’d assumed but was in her living room looking at the huge wall-mounted photograph collage. He turned to face her.
“You looked quite mischievous when you were younger,” he said pointing to a photo of her 6-year-old self sticking out her tongue. “I bet you were quite a handful.”
“I guess you could say that. I’m sure my mother would be happy to regale you with tales of my childhood escapades,” she replied ruefully. Although she mentally beat herself up about bringing her mother into the conversation. She had no idea what her mum had told his aunt or whether his aunt had told him anything her mum may have said. You go, girl! At this rate the evening will be over before it’s even started!
“Shall we?” Yemi asked and when she nodded, he let her precede him out the door. He held out his hands for her keys, locked her door and then handed them back.
He opened the car door for her and shut it after she was seated. Whilst she appreciated his chivalry, she couldn’t help but chafe at the fact that he hadn’t complimented the way she looked. Wasn’t it customary for a guy to say something about his date’s appearance? Ok, so it wasn’t a date and she was probably getting ahead of herself. The thought that maybe she wasn’t his type and he wasn’t in the least bit attracted to her left a sour taste in her mouth. She realised he was only taking her out as a way of exacting revenge for the way she’d treated him.
Why was life playing such a cruel trick on her? What are the chances of her blowing off the one decent man her mother had tried to match make her with? Things like this only happened to her. Sighing, she resigned herself to the next few miserable hours and hoped they would fly by quickly.
Yemi couldn’t remember the last time he was such a bundle of contradictory emotions. He looked across at Tola as she kept her head bent, refusing to meet his eyes. He felt like wringing her neck and crushing her into a passionate embrace all at once.
He’d noticed her the instant he’d walked into the boardroom. He’d felt such a pull of attraction to the tall, leggy, dark-skinned woman and wondered who she was. He couldn’t explain it but for the first time since Bukky died, he wanted to get to know a woman better. While he plotted out ways to get her attention without singling her out and making it obvious to everyone else in the room that he was interested, he’d studied her closely.
She looked comfortable in her own skin yet there was a hint of vulnerability in her dark brown eyes. He’d noticed she wore little make-up but it had been skilfully applied to enhance her features. Her eyebrows were nicely shaped and her extraordinarily long and curly eyelashes rested delicately on her cheeks every time she blinked.
She was dressed conservatively in a dark grey business skirt suit but the cut accentuated her curves and hugged her waist and full breasts. The skirt stopped just above her knees revealing just enough of her thighs to get him wanting to see the rest as she sat. Her high-heeled pumps added extra inches to her height and made her already long legs appear even longer.
Her hair was pulled back into a bun but a few recalcitrant tendrils had escaped and he was tempted to undo her clasp and run his fingers through her straightened black hair. Simple gold stud earrings and a necklace were her only jewellery yet she looked more beautiful than a lot of women who wore thousands of dollars worth of jewellery.
When the CEO of Quik IT Solutions Ltd had introduced her and said her name, he’d felt something akin to a punch to his solar plexus. Shocked didn’t come close to describing how he’d felt. He’d been angry that he’d felt so attracted to the woman who’d treated him so shabbily without even having the benefit of meeting him. Yet he’d found himself being curious about her reaction. Why had she been so rude? What had happened in the past to make her react that way? Had she had a bad experience?
It was all of these questions that prompted him to send for her after she’d left the room. He’d used the excuse of having a few questions about the company accounts which he couldn’t care less about. His team was extremely thorough and they wouldn’t be at this meeting if Quik IT Solutions hadn’t been carefully scrutinised and approved.
Now she was sitting here alone with him, he questioned his sanity for requesting her presence. Naturally he’d expected her to be regretful about her behaviour but she’d disarmed him with her anger. He had no clue how to proceed.
Yemi, get a grip on yourself, man! The silence in the room was beginning hum. This was ridiculous. He was, after all, Adeyemi Cole, the oil and gas magnate who’d built up a multi-million dollar empire from scratch. The same one who’d courted and discoursed with presidents of nations and top government officials persuading them to come round to his way of thinking. Yemi Cole never backed away from a challenge yet here he was, being reduced to inactivity and rendered speechless by a woman. He had to say something. Anything.
“Have dinner with me,” he blurted out. He had no idea when the thought had crystallised in his mind, much less come out from his mouth. He was just desperate to break the uncomfortable silence.
“Pardon?” he could see his confusion reflected in her eyes as she looked up at him. Well, he couldn’t back out now. The words were out and there was no taking them back.
“I asked you to have dinner with me. You do want your company to get this contract, don’t you? Besides, there’s a certain package awaiting a joyful reunion with its owner,” he said lightly. It would serve him and his pubescent hormones right if she turned him down.
“Are you blackmailing me?” she asked, looking a bit shell-shocked. Obviously she hadn’t been expecting a dinner invitation.
He’d never yet had to resort to underhand means to get a woman to go out with him but he couldn’t think of any other way to see her socially. Of course he had no intention of letting her attitude affect the contract. He didn’t usually mix business with pleasure but she had no way of knowing that.
Yemi could have sworn he’d never see the day when a woman considered a dinner date with him something akin to a life sentence in jail. He knew women found him attractive and a great catch. He’d had to field overtures from women from very early on in his life. Even when he was married, he’d still borne the brunt of some determined women trying everything they could to get his attention.
But from the expression on Tola’s face, his invitation was anything but welcome. As a matter of fact, he had a strong feeling that she would only acquiesce because she was worried her saying no would mean her company would lose out on a rather lucrative contract. Otherwise she would probably have told him where to stuff his invitation.
“Your mother gave me your home address so I’ll pick you up at 7.30pm on Friday,” he said.
He could see she wanted to protest but she swallowed before nodding her head.
“If that’s all, I need to catch up with work,” she stood and strode out.
He leaned back in his chair, watching her swaying behind as she left the room. He’d expected more of a fight from her. Where was the feisty woman who’d cut him off last Friday? Why had she given in so easily? He shook his head, wondering if he hadn’t gotten himself involved in something he would regret. He wasn’t usually given to acting impulsively but one look at Tola Ayeni and he’d lost all ability to behave rationally.
Rubbing his hands over his head, he consoled himself with the fact that it was just dinner with the daughter of his aunt’s friend, not a date. He would pick her up, they would eat at a non-cosy, business-like restaurant, he would give her package to her, drop her off at home and that would be that. He would never have to see her again. If nothing else, he would be able to tell his conniving aunt, he’d given things a try but they hadn’t worked out. Surely Yemi Cole could have dinner with a woman without complicating his life further.
Just dinner, that was the refrain he repeated over and over in his head as he grabbed his briefcase and headed out the building even as images of the beguiling beauty that was Tola Ayeni assaulted his mind. Yeah, keep telling yourself that, Cole and you will soon begin to believe it.
Tola hit the snooze button as her alarm clock rang and rolled over, pulling the covers over head to sleep a little while longer. She knew she shouldn’t have stayed up so late last night but she and the girls had been having so much fun, she didn’t manage to get into bed till four a.m.
As the alarm clock went off yet again, she turned it off and dragged her tired body out of bed and into the shower. If she didn’t get a move on, she’d get caught in the awful Port Harcourt rush-hour traffic jams and eventually be late to work.
She envied Tomi and Shade who would be catching a late afternoon flight back to Lagos and Abuja respectively so could afford to have a lie-in. They were probably still both fast asleep in her guest room. Unfortunately she couldn’t afford that luxury on a Monday morning.
Phew! The traffic in Port Harcourt is getting even worse than Lagos, Tola thought to herself as she straggled into the office at half past nine a.m. Work started officially at nine. but she liked to be in the office by eight thirty at the latest. Ordinarily she wouldn’t have worked herself up into such a frenzy about being half an hour late. But today wasn’t just any regular day. Today was the day the top executives from ZenOil were coming over for a meeting to discuss a retainer with her company. It wasn’t a day she could afford to be late.
Even though the meeting was billed to start at ten, she’d planned to be there much earlier to go over the company accounts with a fine tooth comb before they were presented to the ZenOil officials at the meeting. If her company won this project, it would keep them in business for many years to come, not to talk of the boost it would give to their reputation.
Sighing as she waited for her computer to boot up, she flicked through the file she’d prepared before the weekend to make sure everything added up. She didn’t have as much time as she’d hoped to do any more.
At five minutes to ten, she made her way to the boardroom where the meeting would take place and sat at the back of the room. A few minutes later, all the concerned parties came in and sat down. The ZenOil team consisted of three men and two ladies, all smartly dressed in business suits. Tola’s eyes were drawn to one man in particular. He was strikingly handsome and much taller than the others, she guessed about 6’3”. He exuded confidence without appearing arrogant. From the way the others deferred to him, she could only guess he was probably in top management.
David Agbasi, her CEO, addressed the group, thanking them for considering Quik IT Solutions Ltd for the project and expressing hope for a mutually beneficial partnership. He went through a few PowerPoint slides and then handed over to the Financial Director, Tola’s boss, Amaebi Fingesi.
Tola tuned out her boss’s voice as all of her senses honed in on the tall man. She found herself inexplicably drawn to him. Her eyes kept straying back to him. His pin-striped suit was certainly not off-the-rack. It looked like it was custom-made. It hung perfectly on the body that might have belonged to an African warrior. She took in his thick dark bushy eyebrows and lashes, as well as the sharp eyes which probably missed nothing. His slightly crooked nose hinted at a youthful brawl for she couldn’t imagine this man would need to resort to his fists now to get his point across.
Once or twice, she caught him looking in her direction but she was sure he wasn’t looking directly at her. A man like him didn’t notice women like her. She observed the easy way, he sat in the chair, relaxed yet not slumped. He appeared to listen intently to what was being said but his expression didn’t give any of his thoughts away. She was curious about him. Who was he? What was his story?
Apart from having to make sure the company accounts were accurately presented, she hadn’t really been involved in pitching for this contract so had no idea who the key players were. Now she wished she had spent a bit more time studying the profile of the ZenOil management. It might have given her an inkling into who this fascinating guy was.
The meeting was over in an hour. Tola was just relieved everything had gone well. As she made her way out of the boardroom, Mr Agbasi called her back, saying he’d like to introduce her to the ZenOil team. She was delighted at the chance to finally put a name to the face which had captivated her for the last hour.
“This is Tola Ayeni, our senior chartered accountant.” Mr Agbasi said and she held out her hand to the man. “Tola, Mr Yemi Cole is the CEO of ZenOil.”
Yemi Cole? The Yemi Cole? Dear God, take me. Now! Tola couldn’t string two words together coherently if she tried. The man she’d been ogling for the duration of the meeting was the same man she’d so rudely dismissed last Friday. Surely her day couldn’t get any worse. She lowered her gaze to hide her embarrassment and was thankful for her blissfully ignorant CEO who carried on introducing the other members of the team.
The introductions were barely over before she made some excuse about work piling up and scuttled out of the boardroom. She rested her elbows on the table and put her head in her hands. Of all the oil companies in Port Harcourt, why did it have to be Yemi Cole’s that they had to deal with?
She wondered what he must think of her. He wouldn’t know she was sorry for the way she’d so abruptly cut him off when they spoke. If she did now attempt to apologise, he would probably think she was doing it just to ensure her company was granted the contract.
How did she always end up in these kinds of predicaments? If only the stubborn man had texted his address, she’d have gone over to see him at the weekend to make her apologies! If only she’d been polite! If only, if only! How on earth was she going to face him in the future if Quik IT got the contract? She consoled herself with the fact that he probably wouldn’t have any future dealings with the project so hopefully they would never have to meet again.
“Tola, are you alright?” She looked up to see a concerned Amaebi. She hadn’t meant to groan out loud. It had just slipped out.
“I’m fine. Sorry I was just thinking out loud but I’m fine, thanks.”
“Oh ok, then. I need you to go back to the boardroom. The ZenOil team had some questions about the accounts.”
Surely the universe was against her! She couldn’t very well argue with her boss but Tola wondered what questions Yemi and his team had and why her boss hadn’t been able to answer them. Her heart thumped in her chest causing her to stop just outside the boardroom door to compose herself before going in.
As she opened the door to the boardroom and stepped in, Yemi was standing at the floor-to-ceiling windows with his back turned to her. She looked around the room but there was no one else. He was alone.
He swung around as she cleared her throat to get his attention. He hadn’t turned around even though he’d probably heard the door open and guessed it was her. His neutral expression didn’t give away anything of his inner feelings, so she had no idea what to expect.
“Tola Ayeni?” he said her name as though he was trying to confirm she was who he thought she was.
Damage control was all Tola could think of.
“Look,” she said, as she clasped her hands together to stop them from trembling so much. “I…we got off on the wrong foot. I was rather—“
“Tell me, are you always that rude or did you make an exception just for me?” Yemi asked. He sat down, leaned back and gestured to her to sit before folding his arms across his chest.
“I – I know what you’re thinking and—“ Tola sat a few chairs away and tried to get the words out.
“Please, don’t presume to know what I’m thinking. You don’t know me at all.” Yemi snapped, leaning forward in the chair as if he was about to spring out of it and do her physical harm.
Instead of being scared, his words riled her. Granted she had reacted to her mother’s past actions and he was bearing the brunt of her anger towards other men but what right had he to come in here trying to bully her? She had come with every intention of apologising but she’d be damned if she let him ride roughshod over her.
“I don’t know you and I don’t care to. I thought I’d already made that crystal clear,” she replied, her eyes flashing.
The tension in the air was so thick you could cut it with a knife. As she glared at Yemi, his casual stance and calm exterior were betrayed by the vein ticking in his neck and his clenched fists.
“Have you any idea that you may be jeopardising your company’s chance for getting this contract?” he said softly.
Tola gasped. For a moment back there, she’d completely forgotten who she was talking to. But he wasn’t just a man her mother was trying to set her up with, he was the CEO of an organisation whose business could make a major difference to her company. She’d done it again. She’d opened her big mouth before her brain engaged in gear.
How on earth was she going to get out of this mess? If only the ground would open up and swallow her right now! Where was an earthquake when you needed one?
To read Part 1, click here.
Yemi stared at the handset. She had actually disconnected the call. He couldn’t believe the gall of the woman. What was her problem anyway? He was just trying to deliver the package her mother had sent and she was acting as if he was about to jump down her throat.
He shook his head as he tossed the phone on to his desk. Women! They were such a complicated breed, he would never figure them out. The only woman he’d even come close to understanding had unfortunately been taken away from him when attempting to give birth to their child who didn’t make it either.
The pain that usually accompanied thoughts of his late wife, Bukky, and their baby gripped his heart in a vice. He felt guilty that he was alive and they were dead. No matter how many times his family had told him differently, he blamed himself for their deaths. If he hadn’t been so set on having children, Bukky would probably still be alive today.
His friends and family were determined to get him married off again and there was no end to the string of women they tried to introduce to him. He humoured them sometimes but he’d gotten fed up of the vacuous airheads a lot of the women turned out to be. Most of them were only interested in his money not him as a person.
He’d had his one chance at love. Bukky had been his soul mate, his friend, confidante and lover. He wasn’t expecting to experience such a love again or find someone who could complement him the way Bukky had. He didn’t even think he had it in him to love someone that way again. His heart lay buried in that cemetery with Bukky and their baby.
If he was ever going to remarry, then it would have to be to a woman whom he respected, who was not overly impressed by his wealth and who could hold her own with him. Even though he didn’t hold out much hope of finding such a woman, he would love to have children.
When his aunt happened to, ever so casually, mention her friend’s daughter in Port Harcourt after she’d learned he would be setting up the new branch there, he’d recognised it for what it was – a ploy to get him to meet yet another woman. He’d told her in no uncertain terms that he didn’t need her or anyone else sorting out his love life. She’d denied she’d had any ulterior motives than him getting some jewellery Tola’s mother had bought across to her daughter.
He’d thought it would have been rather churlish of him to refuse to take the parcel so had grudgingly accepted to make the delivery when he arrived Port Harcourt. If he was in any doubts about his decision to steer clear of his family’s matchmaking , his telephone conversation with Tola had erased them.
If, and when, he decided to start a relationship, it would be with someone of his own choosing. Definitely not a woman like Tola Ayeni.
“I can’t believe all three of us are actually here. It’s been like forever since we’ve managed to do this,” Tola smiled as she looked at her friends. “I was convinced I would get a call from one of you at the last minute saying you couldn’t make it.
“I can’t speak for Tomi but I needed this break desperately. I’ve been working sixty to eighty hours a week at the hospital to complete my residency. There’s not a lot that could have kept me away.” Shade replied as she nodded her head in time to the soft jazz music playing in the bar.
“Well, I haven’t seen either of you in almost six months, I sure as hell wasn’t planning on missing this. So what’s been happening with you two?” Tomi asked, as she emptied her glass of red wine.
“Hey Tomi, go easy on the wine. That’s your third glass and the evening has barely begun.” Tola said.
“My dear, I’ve just spent the last week on a detox retreat in Thailand and the week before that in a convent. Needless to say, there was no alcohol. I have some catching up to do.” Tomi replied, as she signalled the bartender to pour her another glass.
“Tomi, I didn’t come all this way to see you get drunk and dancing on tables.” Shade said. They all laughed.
“That’s not fair, Shade. It only ever happened once and it wasn’t my fault, my drink was spiked.” Tomi pretended to be upset. “At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it. Ok, I promise to switch to sparkling water after this glass. In the meantime, I’m toasting our-soon-to-be pediatric consultant.” She lifted her glass towards Shade.
“Thanks, my dear. I can hardly believe it myself. I’m just relieved the hard grind is behind me and I can now enjoy the benefits of being an-almost consultant. Bayo is over the moon. At least he gets to see me most evenings and sometimes in the morning before we both head out to work.”
“How is Bayo? And how are things with you two?” Tola asked.
“Like I said, he’s really happy my residency days are over. Things were tough for a while back then, with me working all the hours God sent but we are good now. Finally settling into married life.” Shade replied.
“I’m glad to hear you guys are ok. Bayo is a good man. Tomi, the last time we talked, I remember you saying something about some guy you’d met on one of your travels, can’t remember exactly which one now. How did that go?” Tola asked.
“Jola,” Tomi replied, sighing. “That was my trip to the Pocono mountains. We seemed to hit it off at first but then there just seem to be too many obstacles for us to overcome.” She wiped at the corners of her eyes with a napkin before the tears could fall down her face.
Tola looked at Shade with raised eyebrows. She couldn’t ever remember seeing her friend cry much less over a man. She must really like this guy. Tola was curious to find out more about the situation with Jola and Tomi but she knew this wasn’t the right time.
“Enough about me,” said Tomi, a bright smile lighting up her face. “Tola, what’s your mum been up to these days?”
“You wouldn’t believe the half of it.” Tola rolled her eyes. “She thinks I’m incapable of meeting someone and conducting a relationship without her help. I’ve tried to get her off my back but she just doesn’t stop.”
“I can’t really blame her though, your track record with relationships isn’t exactly, erm…“ Shade shrugged as she left her sentence incomplete.
“Ah! Shade, you’re not being fair. The fact that I haven’t dated a long list of men doesn’t necessarily make me incapable of choosing my own dates.” Tola protested.
“At least you know your mother loves you. What wouldn’t I give for my mother to try to set me up with someone?” Tomi said. Tola knew how difficult it was for Tomi to talk about her mother who had left her with her father for another man when she was barely three years old and had since flitted in and out of her life.
“Trust me, Tomi, if it happened as regularly as it does to me, you would hate it. The latest one is some widower and nephew of one of mum’s friends. He was moving to Port Harcourt and mum gave him some jewellery to give to me.” Tola shook her head in exasperation.
“Ooh! Maybe she sent him with an engagement ring to propose. Now wouldn’t that be something!” Tomi teased.
“Tomi, stop,” Tola scolded, as she struggled to stop laughing. “It’s not funny at all.”
“So what’s this one like?” Shade asked.
“I have no idea. I haven’t met him yet.”
“What do you mean you haven’t met him yet?” Tomi asked.
“Exactly what I said. Mum told me about him three months ago but I told her I wasn’t interested. I thought she’d finally listened when I didn’t hear from him all this while. Then out of the blue, just as I was leaving work earlier today, he called.”
“And?” Shade asked, tilting her head.
“And nothing. He asked when would be a good time to drop off the parcel and also if we could meet up so I could tell him how to find his way around town. I declined the invitation in no uncertain terms and cut off the call.” Tola replied, heatedly.
“Hmm!” said Shade.
“What?” asked Tola.
“I don’t know,” Shade shrugged. “Wasn’t that a bit rude and a tad premature?”
“I did tell him to text me his address and I would send a driver over to pick it up but he insisted on bringing it himself. I was quite clear that I wasn’t interested but he wouldn’t take a hint. What else should I have done?” Tola realised she was getting a bit defensive but she couldn’t help it. She expected her friends to empathise with her not criticise her actions.
“I understand all that but he might not be privy to your mother’s scheming and is probably just being a gentleman.” Shade said, placing her hand over Tola’s.
“Did you say he’s a widower?” Tomi asked. “What’s his name again?”
“Yemi Cole,” replied Tola.
Tomi whistled as she raised her eyes in amazement. “Wow!”
“What is it?” Tola asked, curious about Tomi’s reaction to the name.
“I know him. Or shall I say, I know of him?” Tomi replied.
“Really” Shade asked. “Spill the beans then.”
“He’s an oil and gas magnate. Worth millions of dollars. A few years ago, I heard his wife died in childbirth. The baby didn’t survive either. He doesn’t socialise much outside of business get-togethers. Lots of women would and have tried to sell their souls to be with him but he’s not been linked with anyone since his wife died,” said Tomi.
“Oh dear! Tola, I think you’ve goofed this time,” Shade said, as she shook her in disapproval.
“Puhleeze! Just because the guy is loaded doesn’t mean he is the kind of person I’d want to be with.” Tola waved her hand dismissively.
“I wasn’t just referring to his money. I meant, if someone in his position and with all his responsibilities was insisting on personally dropping your package off, you were a bit rude in dismissing him the way you did. And he doesn’t sound to me like one of your mother’s usual errand boys. Just saying.” Shade shrugged.
“Shade’s right, Tola. You owe the man an apology.” Tomi added.
Tola groaned inwardly as her friends ganged up on her. She knew they had a point but was too embarrassed to say anything. She had misjudged the situation badly. He most certainly didn’t sound like the type of man who would need anyone to get him a date if he wanted one. On the contrary, his problem was probably choosing from the myriad of women lining up outside his door.
“I admit there’s a possibility that I might have been a bit hasty. I should apologise for my behaviour but I don’t have his number. If he does text me his address, I will go there in person and tell him how sorry I am.” Tola said.
“A guy like that can’t be difficult to find,” Shade said. “I bet if you asked around, someone would know how to get in touch with him.”
“I can’t exactly go around asking about him and his contact details. What would people think?” Tola asked. “Damn! Why do things like this always happen to me?”
“If it’s any consolation, I goofed big time when I first met Jola too.” Tomi said, as she pulled Tola into a side embrace.
“Hmm! I’m curious to hear about that, if only to reassure me I’m normal.” Tola said.
“Not tonight.” Tomi replied. “Hey, where’s all the fun you promised we would have in the Garden City? I’m starving. Are you planning on feeding us?”
“Me too, I could eat a whole chicken,” Shade said.
“Come on then, grab your stuff. I know just the place for you, my dear friends.
“That’s more like it. Lead on,” Tomi replied as they made their way out of the bar.
Over the next few days, I’ll post excerpts from the novel I wrote in November. This is part 2. To read part 1, click here.
As always, I welcome your feedback.
The first couple of weeks after the phone call with her mum, Tola had been on edge. She hadn’t been sure whether or not her mum would actually respect her wishes not to set her up. So every time her phone rang, she half-expected it would be some guy her mum had given her number.
When a whole month passed without any strange men calling her, she’d started to relax. And now three months later, the whole episode was a distant memory. Whenever she called, her mum never mentioned her friend’s nephew or any other man. Tola was only too glad at this turn of events. She ruefully acknowledged that if she’d known all it would take to get her mum off her back was getting angry, she would have done it much sooner.
It wasn’t like she didn’t want to meet someone and ‘settle down’ as her mum would say. It was just that none of the men her mother had sent her way even came close to meeting her mental list of what she wanted in the man with whom she would spend the rest of her life.
She’d had an on-off boyfriend while at university but they’d eventually parted ways when he’d graduated a year before her. Since leaving uni, she had casually dated a few guys but none of them had led to anything serious. After trying to humour her mother a few times by going out with some of the men she’d chosen with sometimes rather disastrous consequences, Tola had decided she’d had enough and stopped.
There had to be a much less painful way of meeting men. She was a romantic at heart and strongly believed she would meet the man of her dreams in the not-too-distant future. Was it too much to ask not to have to kiss countless frogs before she found her prince? She wasn’t interested in getting married for getting married sake. Some of her friends had done that and were stuck in a loveless relationship. Having her parents’ happy marriage of over thirty years as an example, she wasn’t willing to settle for less.
Her mum’s favourite refrain ‘you’re not getting any younger’ only magnified the tick-tocking of her biological clock. But thirty was the new twenty-one. She had heard of women in their fifties getting pregnant, so surely there was hope for her.
With a deep sigh, Tola brought her mind back to the present. Work was much less stressful, thanks in no small part to her line manager ensuring all the accounting procedures and processes were followed strictly. Thankfully, she’d hardly had to work late the last month end. Things were definitely looking up.
She couldn’t wait for the end of the day. Two of her closest friends, Shade and Tomi, were in Port Harcourt for the weekend. It had been a while since they’d all been able to meet up. Shade, was a medical doctor who’d only recently completed her residency in a private hospital in Abuja. Tomi’s job as a freelance travel journalist took her to different parts of the globe so she was hardly ever in one place for very long.
As she gathered up her stuff, to head out of the office, her phone rang. She answered it without looking. “Hello”
“Hello, may I please speak with Tola Ayeni?”
“Yes, speaking.” Tola wondered to whom the deep bass voice belonged.
“Your mum gave me your number and—”
“Who is this?” she asked, a bit irritated. The caller knew who she was but she had no idea who he was. She frowned and pulled the handset away from her ear to peer at the display screen. It wasn’t a number she was familiar with. She usually didn’t pick up calls from numbers she didn’t recognise after a bad experience of being stalked, but she’d been distracted so she’d answered this call without checking to see who it was.
She put the phone back to her ear to hear a deep throaty chuckle.
“Sorry, I should have introduced myself. My name is Yemi Cole. Your mother gave me a parcel for you about three months ago. I should have called sooner but I’ve been inundated with work since I arrived and have barely had the time to do anything else.”
Damn her mother! Tola couldn’t believe she’d completely ignored everything her daughter had said to her and had gone ahead with her matchmaking scheme. Well if Yemi Cole thought she would fall into his lap at her mother’s say-so, he was sorely mistaken.
“I was calling to ask when’s a good time for you so I can drop off your parcel.”
“Well if you give me your address, I’ll send a driver to get it. You don’t need to trouble yourself coming out to me especially when you are so busy,” Tola replied coldly. She really wasn’t in the mood to play games.
“Oh no! It’s no trouble at all. Things aren’t as hectic at work anymore. Besides, I haven’t seen anything of the town since I got here and your mum did say you’d be happy to share a few tips on finding my way around. We could meet somewhere for drinks or a meal if you’d rather I didn’t come to your place,” he replied.
Hmm! He was smart. He’d sussed she didn’t want him coming to her place but she still wasn’t buying the gentlemanly act. She wasn’t stupid enough to be lured into meeting him on the pretext of a meal or drinks.
“I’m sorry, I really don’t have time to discuss this now. I’ve got an appointment tonight and was just on my way out of the office when you called. If you text me your address, I will send a driver to pick up the parcel.”
“Come on, you’ve got to eat at some point. I promise I don’t bite, I don’t have body or mouth odour. Ask your mum.” She could hear the smile in his voice and started to smile herself until he said ‘Ask your mum’. It reminded her that this wasn’t just any old guy but one her mother was desperately trying to set her up with. It made her see red.
“Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear, Mr Cole. I’m not interested. If you don’t want to have the parcel picked up, you can return it to sender or keep it. I couldn’t care less either way. I have to go now.” She pressed the disconnect button on the handset with such force, her thumb throbbed.
She picked up her laptop and handbag and stalked out of the office, kissing her teeth as she recalled the audacity of the man.
This December, the Romance Writers of West Africa, a group dedicated to the growth of African romantic fiction, is giving away 12 books to 7 lucky winners.
The books on offer are:
To be in with a chance to win, check out the contest rules.
1. *Subscribe to the RWOWA website by completing the Email Subscriptionform on the top right-hand bar
2. Follow @RWoWA on Twitter by clicking the twitter button OR click the ‘Like’ button for the RWOWA page on Facebook.
3. Leave a comment indicating your Facebook / Twitter name / email. Also indicate your location so we can pick you for the right book. E.g. US, Nigeria, etc.
The 7 lucky winners will be selected on December 30, 2011. The winners will be announced on December 31, 2011.
Not all the books are available in all locations. See the book list above for details of availability.
Contestants must complete all of the above criteria to be eligible. *Email subscription via this website is mandatory. Contestants can choose between following on Twitter or Facebook or both.
I wish you the very best and hope you’ll be one of the lucky winners.
Tara for now.