I got home that night very tired though exhilarated. The day had been full of fights and victories, and I was so ready to crash in front of my TV and watch my favorite station; Telemundo. There’s something very relaxing and soothing about watching lovers fight and make-up in these TV dramas. I microwaved my dinner of fried potatoes and fish, grabbed a bottle of soda, and settled down to watch the show presently on. It was at that moment my phone rang.
“Girrrrrl, you were supposed to call me the moment the deal went through.” It was Adelaide, Daniel’s cousin on the line. “I just ended a call with my cousin and he was filled with nothing but praises for you.”
“Really?” Who would have thought?
“Really, girl. You must have done a hell of a job because my brother is not that easily impressed.”
“Hmmm, that sounds cryptic. We have to get together for a drink.”
“Now? Tonight?” I groaned.
“Yes, tonight, girl. Don’t worry, I’m coming to pick you up. I won’t subject you to Lagos night traffic. Get dressed; I’m almost at your house.” She hung up.
I groaned once more and flopped on my chair. So much for a quiet night in with my Telemundo.
Thirty minutes later, I found myself seated in front of Adelaide. She ordered a glass of apple martini and I settled for club soda. I don’t drink, my years of experience with ‘the boy’, Bayo, had taught me what too much drink can do to the mind. I sipped my soda, while I listened to Adelaide tell me all her cousin said.
“When I asked DJ what he thought of your beauty, he said that was none of my business. Trust me that raised my antenna higher than if he had just told me he found you irresistible. He found you irresistible, didn’t he?”
“DJ?” I asked with raised eyebrows.
She laughed. “Just a nickname that stuck with him since we were kids. You can ask him about it sometime.”
“Well, he did ask me out to dinner tomorrow night.” I answered.
“Yes!” she punched the air. “I knew it. So, where are you guys going?”
“I’m not going out with your cousin, Adelaide.”
She reacted as if I just hit her. “Why not?”
“I don’t mix business with pleasure.”
“Oh, Ella! You’re too straight-laced for me. Why did you think I sent you to him in the first place?”
“Well, forgive me but I thought it was because of my very lovely work.” I answered, hurt.
“Of course, I love your work, Ella. My brother wouldn’t have given you the time of the day if he hadn’t seen some pictures of your works and loved it. But I was so hoping you guys will hit it off.”
“He saw some pictures?” The nerve of that man! And he was busy asking me all those questions.
“Yes, I sent him some.”
“Can’t you make an exception for my cousin? He’s very handsome, don’t you think?”
I smiled. “Yes, he’s alright. And if you dare tell him I said that, I’ll cut off your tongue.”
She laughed. “My lips are sealed. So?”
I knew what she was asking. “Adelaide, your cousin is cute but I don’t want to complicate things. My life is in order right now, and I’m not looking for any disruptions.”
“It’s cool. I hope you change your mind though.”
I smiled. “Thank you for looking out for me, babe.”
“That’s what I’m here for.” She gave me a high-five. “So, I got the impression that you had a harrowing day?”
“You have no idea.” I launched into just how harrowing the day was.
“By the time I was done checking all of your cousin’s offices and making a list of everything I’ll need, I was very exhausted. I had to rush down to the LASTMA Office though, because I had to get my car. Suffice to say, I finally got it out. I went home immediately and was about to settle down to my dinner when your call came in.” I gave her a nasty look.
She laughed. “Forgive me, darling. I just had to hear the full gist from you.”
“I’m glad I came out. It’s a nice end to a not-so-enjoyable day.”
“All is well that ends well.”
“That reminds me, I’m going to need the services of a trucking company. Do you happen to know any?”
“No, I don’t. But I can help you find out from someone.”
“By the way, I’ve not thanked you for hooking me up with your cousin for this job. It’s really a lifesaver.”
“It’s my pleasure, darling. I know you’ll do an awesome job.”
I winked. “You got that right. It’s going to take a lot though, your cousin’s office is very impressive.”
“You don’t know the half of it. The guy is loaded.”
“Really? How loaded?”
“I’m telling you. Like the caliber of Dangote and the rest.”
My eyes almost bulged out of my head. “Seriously???”
She laughed. “Nah, I’m just kidding. He’s stinking rich though. I mean the guy can afford to buy an Aston Martin without batting an eye.”
“Hmmm. That’s really cool. I can’t imagine what it’ll feel like to have that kind of money.”
“What does he do anyway?”
“He’s into real estate. I mean the big guns; buying and selling of properties in Lekki, Banana Islands and so on. He’s not in the minor league.”
“Wow! I’m impressed.”
“I’m impressed too and he’s ‘only’ my cousin.”
I laughed. “Lucky you.”
“Would you like another glass?” she eyed my club soda.
I yawned. “No, girl. I’d rather just go home. I’m so tired.”
“I understand.” She signaled the waiter and paid for the drinks, and we walked out together.
By the time I got back home, I was so ragged that all I could do was crash into my bed. Before long, I was far in dreamland, having dinner with Daniel.
The following day started a lot better than the previous. I was able to get a lot of work done. I went to the market, priced some of the materials I needed for the job and proceeded with my price estimate. I planned to send in my quotation before the time allotted expired, just to make up for my tardiness the previous day. I want Daniel to see me as a professional, ready to do her job.
I woke up that morning, ready to conquer the day. I was feeling exhilarated thinking about the money that will enter my bank account by the completion of this job. That alone got me grinning like a Cheshire cat throughout the day.
After I did my market runs, I decided to treat myself to a good lunch. I found a little corner café and had some fried chips and chicken. By the time I was done with lunch, it was almost time for church. I quickly drove back home to get ready.
I chose a chocolate-colored pencil skirt and a pink chiffon top. I tucked the top into the skirt, put on a belt for waist definition, retouched my make-up and slipped into ballerina flats. I was not in the mood for heels that evening.
I got to church at a quarter past five, just about fifteen minutes late. Praise and worship was in session. By the time the preacher came on, I was feeling the effects of my busy day, I persevered though and only dozed off twice. I was grateful when the time came to close the service. All I wanted was to slip away quietly before anyone noticed me. But I was not in luck.
I spotted Adelaide coming towards me with determination etched all over her lovely face. I groaned inwardly. She’s going to want to catch up. A slight shift of my gaze to her side stopped me up short, I couldn’t believe my eyes; it was Mr. Hotshot himself beside his cousin. He grinned cockily when our eyes collided and a frisson of electricity went through me. Oh, not in church too!
“There you are, Ella! I’ve been looking all over for you.” Adelaide exclaimed.
“Hi, dearie.” I gave her a hug. “I’ve been right here.”
Mr. Hotshot was still wearing that cocky grin. “No hug for me, Miss Ella?”
“What did you do to deserve one?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Just for being here.”
“And did you come here because of me?” I twitched my mouth to keep from smiling.
“Well, that can be up for discussion.”
“Alright, alright, you two. That’s okay. I’m still here, remember?”
I smiled at her. “Hope you weren’t too hung over after all that drink last night.”
“Well, that was last night. Imagine my surprise when Daniel called me this evening.”
“I can imagine.”
Adelaide maneuvered so her back was to Daniel. She winked at me. “No, dear, you can’t. When I told him I was on my way to church, he promptly invited himself. Of course, that would have nothing to do with you?” she raised her eyebrow at me.
“I wouldn’t know, Adelaide.” I looked at the man we were discussing and he was just standing slightly behind his cousin, staring at me, with that self-assured grin still on his face. I became a bit ruffled.
“Anyway, he has invited us for drinks.” Adelaide went on, oblivious to the drama going on at her back.
“Invited us?” he kept staring at me, and I had to look away. I was too flustered.
“Yes. You and I.”
I reluctantly turned back to her. “I’m too tired for drinks tonight, Adelaide.”
“Oh no, you’re not. We are going together.”
“It wouldn’t be that you’re scared to be in my company now, would it?” Cocky grin intact, eyes twinkling, Mr. Hotshot challenged me.
“I’m not scared of anything.” I fired back.
“Then, what are we still waiting for?”
I knew what he was doing. Oh, I knew he deliberately made that statement just to rile me. He knew I wouldn’t back down from a challenge and he was right.
“Let’s get going, then.” I marched ahead of them, ignoring his chuckle and Adelaide’s titter. That made two nights in a row that I’ve been made to do something I’d rather not do. You need to get a life, Ella, I told myself.
It turned out we went to a karaoke bar somewhere on the island. I had no intention of taking anything, so I just sat stiffly, watching Adelaide down drink after drink. I couldn’t fault her though; she’s the fun-loving type and she doesn’t believe in not drinking, even as a Christian. I am cut from a different clothe. I noted Daniel wasn’t drinking any hard liquor too. He was nursing a bottle of Fayrouz.
I watched the people singing on the stage with minimal interest, while I tried to pretend I was not hanging on every word that came out of Daniel’s mouth. As I turned to surreptitiously watch him without giving myself away, my eyes collided with his and he winked. I turned away, embarrassed.
“Ella, are you insisting you don’t want anything?” he asked.
“Oh, I’m fine. Thank you, Mr. Daniel.”
“Please, call me Daniel.”
I nodded. “Daniel, then.”
“Your refusal to have a drink makes this little outing of ours moot. I wouldn’t want you to say you didn’t enjoy yourself.”
“I was badgered into this, don’t expect me to thank you for it.” I retorted.
“Oh, come off it, Ella. Just have a Coke or something.” Adelaide muttered, exasperated.
“Please have a drink, Ella.” Daniel said.
I looked at him and saw the sincerity in his eyes. I decided to have a coke anyway. “Okay, I’ll have a coke.” I relented.
Before long, I was actually having fun, laughing and swapping jokes with them both. Adelaide remembered some of Daniel’s escapades when they were quite young and she told a tale of a particular young man with a huge crush on an older woman, amidst protests from Daniel.
“And immediately she drew close to him, he just started stammering. All those pretty words he practiced on me must have flown out of his head. It was all I could do to keep from laughing. After a few minutes of embarrassing silence, the lady finally took pity on him and patted him on the head. ‘You look cute too,’ she said.”
I laughed so hard I almost peed in my pants. I couldn’t imagine the self-assured Daniel having that big of a crush on an older lady. He didn’t laugh with us, but I could see the effort it took him, his mouth was twitching madly.
“Come on, let’s sing, Ella.” Adelaide suddenly said.
I shook my head. “You know I don’t sing, girl.”
“It is karaoke, who’s gonna notice?”
I glanced at Daniel as if to say, ‘he will’.
“I promise I won’t bite.” He said. “And I won’t laugh too hard.”
I ignored him and turned to Adelaide. “Let’s do this!”
“Yeah, that’s my girl.” She whooped.
We stepped on the stage and I took up my microphone. Adelaide went ahead to request a song and to my surprise, Celine Dion’s ‘My heart will go on’ started playing. The first line of the lyrics, ‘Every night in my dreams, I see you, I feel you’ set my heart thumping rhythmically to the beat of the music. As I sang along, my eyes couldn’t help but stray to our table, where Daniel was seated and I watched him as he watched me, thinking how apt the song was.
As the song wound down and got to its conclusion, I finally tore my eyes away from his and smiled at Adelaide in a bid to regain my composure. I don’t know what came over me, but the guy is sure to know how into him I am after that drama. A part of me wished I could disappear, and the other part was earnestly waiting for what his reaction would be.
“That was really lovely.” He stood up as soon as we got to the table. “I felt you were singing to me and for me.” he said quietly, moving closer and backing Adelaide.
I coughed nervously and shook my head. “It was just the emotions in the song.”
He smiled. “I like my explanation better.” He winked.
“Guys, it is pretty late. We’ll better get going.” Adelaide interrupted.
“Oh, yes.” Daniel stepped back from me.
“Thanks for an enjoyable evening.” I said to him.
“I’ll like to do this again. Preferably just you and I.” he winked.
I smiled shyly and just nodded. Uh, uh, Ella, now you’ve gone and done it!
We said our goodbyes and I headed home, wondering what I’ve gotten myself into this time.
That night, I dreamed of Daniel. In the dream, we were in a swanky restaurant, eating oysters and drinking chilled champagne from long stemmed flutes, with a violinist playing a rendition of Celine Dion’s ‘My heart will go on’. I thoroughly enjoyed myself in the dream.
It was when I woke up in the middle of the night that I realized I’ve got it bad for Daniel. The dream was the last nail in the coffin. After tossing and turning for another twenty minutes with more sleep nowhere on the horizon, I got up and wandered to the kitchen.
I got out a bottle of coke from the fridge, opened the cap and took a long, satisfying swallow. I really should give up this soda drink called Coca-Cola, but it’s oh, so addictive.
After that intake of caffeine, I knew I wasn’t going to sleep anymore, so instead of daydreaming about what I couldn’t have, I decided to get some work done. I switched on my laptop and started browsing for some lovely designs I could use on the job.
After about an hour, I had accumulated some I found promising and my eyes were starting to dim. It was a little after 5 a.m. and I could still catch some much needed sleep. I needed to be sharp and on point for the meeting I have with Daniel at 9 a.m.
I dragged myself to my bed and crawled under the covers. Few seconds later, I was out cold. Oh, blissful slumber!
I didn’t feel so blissful when I woke up three hours later. I checked my bedside clock and saw it was a good twenty minutes after eight. I jumped up as if someone lit a fire beneath me. No, no, no, this is not happening again, I groaned.
I ran into the bathroom, almost tore my nightie off me in my hurry, and hopped into the shower. It was the fastest bath of my life.
I quickly dressed up in a flowered free flowing gown, belted it at the waist to give it a bit of definition and style, and I put on a pair of black low-heeled sandals. By then, it was eight thirty. I grabbed my car keys, praying frantically that there won’t be any horrendous traffic to deal with on the way. I barely had enough time to get there as it is. And to say that I had planned this so well; oh, you know what they say about the best laid plans.
Exactly thirty minutes later, I pulled into the car park. I clutched my bag and the folder I needed for the meeting and got out of the car. The car park was some distance from the office complex, so I had to run the rest of the way. I was in great shape, I wasn’t breathing too hard when I got to the receptionist.
“Hi.” I breathed fast. “I’m here for a 9’0 clock meeting with Mr. Daniel Omalu.” I smiled.
The lady just stood there, staring at me with an incredulous look on her face, her mouth wide open. I wondered what her problem was. Was I speaking French?
“Miss Ella Bendel to see Mr. Daniel Omalu, please.” I repeated.
She finally closed her mouth and found her tongue. “Mad….am,” she stammered, “Your hair…your fa…ce…you look a fright.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked. I turned to the glassed wall and checked my reflection. It was then I noticed my hair and face. I had not remembered to apply any make-up on my face, but that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was I still had the hair cap I slept with snugly placed on my head. No make-up, no earrings, and a head full of uncombed hair. I stared at myself in horror. Oh, for the love of God!
Damage control was needed. “Do you have a comb, please?” I asked the receptionist.
She shook her head in the negative.
“Nothing to salvage this?” I indicated the whole of my head.
“I’m sorry.” She said.
“It’s not your fault.” I answered her. “Oh well, I’ll just have to brave it.”
She looked at me with such pity, I almost laughed. I can’t wait to see the look on Daniel’s face. On the other hand, I’d rather be anywhere but here.
I faced the elevator as someone going to the gallows. I pushed the button and entered when it opened. I was the only one in and it felt as if I was facing the firing squad.
A sudden inspiration hit me. The cap I had on was silk, and very presentable, so I pulled it off, hand combed my hair till it cascaded down my back, and replaced the cap. I checked my reflection and saw it was better than before, the cap hid the worst of it. I pinched my cheeks to add some color to my make-up bereft face and licked my lips. By then, the elevator glided to a stop and I stepped out.
I so do not want to do this but I have to. I squared my shoulders and marched into the office with fake confidence. I adopted the saying; if you don’t have it, fake it.
Naturally, Daniel was waiting for me. I had wasted five minutes downstairs at the reception so I was about ten minutes late. At least it was better than the last time.
Daniel was engrossed behind his desk working on his computer. He looked up when his secretary announced me and frowned. At least he could have pretended not to notice.
“Thank you, Udi.” He said.
The secretary nodded and withdrew. She closed the door quietly behind her.
“Good morning, Daniel.” I said. “I’m sorry I’m a bit late, it was due to unavoidable circumstances.”
“An unavoidable circumstance like waking up on the wrong side of the bed?”
I looked down, and looked up; anywhere but at him. The scrape of his chair as he stood up caught my attention and I looked up. He came to stand directly before me. He had that cocky smile on his face again.
“Good morning, Ella. Or isn’t it a good morning for you?” his eyebrows rose. “You look like something the cat dragged in.”
“I didn’t have time to do my normal grooming.”
“I can see that. From the neck down is pretty good, but the other end is not as spick-span. Someone stole your make-up case and hair brush?”
“Ha ha ha, very funny.” I sniggered. “I was too much in a hurry, I forgot to do the necessary. I was here before I discovered it and your receptionist was no help in that regard.”
“Well, that is not part of her job description, is it?”
“I guess not.”
“Hmmm. Shall we get started?” he indicated the ornate chairs I so loved the last time. This time, there was a tea set on the table, and I saw a covered plate. Is there going to be some fine dining here?
I sat down, dropped the folder and bag I was still clutching, and tried to relax.
“You’ve not had any breakfast, have you?”
“I hope you don’t mind that I took the liberty to order you some breakfast? Would you like some tea and toast?”
What do we have here? I thought. “Tea will be fine, thank you.”
He smiled and preceded to prepare the tea for me. “Sugar? Milk?”
I nodded and he added a little bit of both. He handed me the mug and went ahead to prepare his own cup. I just watched him, mesmerized. Nobody had ever prepared tea for me before, and I couldn’t have imagined such a macho guy like Daniel doing so.
He took a slice of toast, bit into it and relaxed into his chair. I was too wound up to eat anything.
“Can we talk shop now?” he asked.
“Yes, sure.” I placed my tea cup carefully into its saucer and took my folder from the floor. I retrieved a pen from my bag.
“What do you have in mind?”
I cleared my throat. “Well, for starters, I’ll like to add some accessories to your offices. Some decorative works of art, lighting, area rugs, potted plants, wall decoration, just something to enhance the beauty of the building.
“Then, for the reception, I am envisioning a total overhaul; repainting, changing of the chairs, the receptionist desk, and then I thought a wall of fame will be very appropriate. A wall of pictures, to show some of the activities the company had involved in over the years, a look into the journey of your business, so to say.”
I laid out the prototype of his office I designed. “This is how the finished work will look. You can see that I included a relaxation spot to the far side.” I pointed at a corner. “A place where you can entertain guests or clients in a semi-relaxed atmosphere, and…” I indicated the window, “…vertical blinds for the windows, so you can easily pull it aside to enjoy your spectacular view.”
“I like that.” He nodded. “Have you picked out the desk you want to replace this with?” he indicated his vast desk.
“Yes. I have just the thing in mind, and I’m sure you’ll love it.”
“I hope so. But I’m choosing to trust you.”
“I won’t disappoint.”
“Good. Get my secretary to draw up the contract and I will append my signature.”
“I’ll like you to start with my office.”
“By the way, how much is this all going to cost me?”
I mentioned something in the neighborhood of six figures and he didn’t even blink. He thought for a while before nodding. “Okay, get Irene to draw up the contract and I’ll sign so you can get on with the job.”
I stood up, gathered my belongings and walked towards the door. My heart was doing the flip and my throat was straining from my effort to hold my excitement in. I just landed a major job that is going to boost my career and I couldn’t wait to express my joy in full. I was grinning from ear to ear as it were.
Daniel’s voice stopped me before I could open the door. “By the way, Ella, you look really beautiful this morning.” He said and winked.
I couldn’t hold it back any longer. My grin was as bright as the glare of the fluorescent in his office. My heart flipped a thousand times, and I practically swooned. I nodded, and quickly rushed out before I could do something really embarrassing, like run to him and hug him.