by Umari Ayim
– Read Episode 1 of the compelling story HERE.
– Read Episode 2 of the compelling story HERE.
– Read Episode 3 of the compelling story HERE
–Read Episode 4 of the compelling story HERE
Work, Surprise In Richard’s Office And Leaving My Room
I slide my fingers over the keyboard of the laptop on my table as I take stock of my surroundings. The office is a large space with two windows, cream and white patterned rug, four leather swivel chairs around a small conference table, a portrait of a landscape with traditional characters, a small metal mesh waste basket and bright recessed florescent lights. I pick the name plate beside the flip open calendar and turn it around
Tamisho Abidemi Mrs, administrative assistant manager
I shrug and lower the name plate to the table. It still feels odd to be in an office. The navy blue skirt and white chiffon top I am wearing is not as severe looking as the pin striped suit the woman who is supposed to be my secretary is wearing but it still helps me blend into the formal and very somber settings. I have not seen Richard since his driver dropped me in front of the eight storey glass and steel structure housing two banks, one broker firm and the company he heads for his father. I can tell from the faint buzzing of his mind that he is somewhere close.
It has been three days since that morning when I found out about my midnight visit to Richard’s room and I still cringe in embarrassment to think of what I did. I have been avoiding Richard as much as I can and was relieved to find out that this morning that his driver will be responsible for bringing me to the office until I begin driving lessons.
I am beginning to miss holding Toju and can only hope the new nanny that resume yesterday morning can be trusted with him.
“Stop worrying,” Shadda says, appearing beside my desk. “He is sleeping now.”
I smile widely at Shadda. It feels so good to see a familiar face. “I have been expecting you all morning.”
Shadda gives me an affectionate smile and walks to the window that overlooks parts of Adeola Hopewell and the Atlantic Ocean.
“What a glorious view.”
I push the swivel chair with high back away from the desk and bend to pull off the uncomfortable black pumps on my feet. Once my feet are free, I walk to join Shadda at the window.
The ocean is a gray and white mass of moving water beside a road where cars race each other to get to their various destinations.
“Busy,” I say, looking at the speeding cars. “I wonder where they are all running to.”
Shadda sighs and looks at me. “You mortals never see what is important.”
I look at the ocean and then at Shadda. “Are you talking about the water?”
Shadda walks away from the window and lowers herself to one of the chairs of the conference table. She picks a magazine from the table and begins to flip through it.
“I am talking about everything,” she says, crossing her legs. In her red skirt and black shirt long sleeved shirt, Shadda is easily the most corporate looking spirit in the heavenly realm.
“You think?” Shadda says, reading my mind and turning to me with a laugh. “Then you haven’t met Meran.”
“Who is Meran?” I ask Shadda, taking the chair opposite her own.
“Meran is one of us.”
“A female guide?”
“We can be anything Tamisho,” Shadda reminds me, shaking a finger at me. “I told you that before.”
I look at Shadda’s red pumps. “So Meran is more fashionable.”
“Sometimes he turns up in the funniest fashion.”
I look at Shadda closely and realize that she is looking darker than usual. “Your colour…what happened to it?”
Shadda raises her hand to her face. “Like it?”
I notice her angular face is now a smooth oval. “The shape of your face has changed too.”
“I decided it was time to change looks,” Shadda tells me with a wink. “It is good to be versatile.”
“So, is Meran black or white?”
“Last time I saw him, he was from Eastern Europe.”
“Does he turn into a woman?”
Shadda nods. “As often as he likes.”
“So he she is a he she?”
Shadda cocks one amused brow at me. “He she is a he she? What in the name of the heavenly planes does that mean?”
I shrug. “I don’t know either. I am out of my league where you guides are concerned.”
I am leaning down to pick one of the magazines on the conference table when I hear a soft polite knock on my door. I straighten back up quickly and rush to my desk. I give up trying to shove my feet into my pumps and sit spine rod straight as the door opens to admit a tall lanky and quite good looking man.
“Good morning,” the man says, walking towards me with a smile. “I hope you are settling in just fine?”
“Yes, thank you.”
The man stands behind the two chairs at the opposite end of my desk.
“Invite him to sit down, Tamisho,” Shadda tells me from the other end of the room. “It is normal office courtesy to stand until you are invited to sit.”
“Please sit down,” I tell the man with a friendly smile.
Shadda replies immediately, “Anytime sugar.”
“My name is Barrister Henry,” the man says, taking one of the seats opposite me. “I am the company lawyer and a close friend of Richard.”
I wonder where I have heard his name before. I give up trying to remember as the man continues to speak.
“It is nice to have someone fill this position. The last assistant manager was sacked three weeks ago, and when Richard told me you had a degree in business administration, I thought it would be a good idea to get you here.”
I remember where I heard his name. From the mind of the lady at the gate. Richard’s ex.
Henry laughs, the sound deep and cheerful. “I am the last person you should thank,” he says, producing a file and placing it on the table. “Your husband runs this company, so my suggestion was honoured at his discretion.”
I nod at Henry and open the file. There are several white sheets of paper with the letters Abidex on top of it. I pick through the papers and try to read them.
“The other manager is on leave, so you have quite a work load.”
I nod at Henry and continue to go through the papers. I see something on travel and bring it out to read. It is a breakdown of the cost of a trip to London for one week. It is signed by the operations manager and from the almost undecipherable writing on the paper, I get the name ‘Tokunbo’ with the title ‘Ms’ beside it. I don’t know why but I think I know who Tokunbo is.
“Of course you do,” Shadda says, walking to stand beside me and peering down at the open file on my desk. “You met her already.”
The woman at the gate.
Shadda pats my shoulder and says, “yep….Your husband’s first love.”
I am surprised by the slight tremor that passes through my hand as my eyes scan through the paper with the travel details while Henry watches and waits for me. I drop the paper back to the file and decide that this is not the right time to wonder why only Richard and Tokunbo are listed as the two parties to go on what appears to be a business trip.
“I will acquaint myself to what needs to be done,” I tell Henry with a smile.
Henry nods and stands up. “Just let me know if you have any problems,” he says with a charming smile. “I will be happy to help.”
Shadda and I watch Henry walk to the door but he stops just as his hand touches the door knob.
“And just in case you were wondering, your husband’s office is just down the hall. Your secretary can point you to it if you need to see him.”
I thank Henry again and he gives me a slight bow before leaving the office.
“He has a beautiful soul, that one,” Shadda says, taking the seat that Henry has just vacated.
I look at the file on my table again. “He is friendly,” I tell Shadda distractedly.
“You are thinking about Richard’s trip,” Shadda says in a sympathetic voice.
I try to give a careless shrug but I remember that Shadda reads my mind, and admit with a nod. “Yes, I am.”
I wait for Shadda to reveal something, anything, but all she does is shake her head and recline in her seat. I sigh and decide to go back to the file. I avoid the paper with the travel details and try to focus on the others. There are salaries and bonuses to be approved for a new set of staff that includes two drivers, a secretary and two cleaners.
“I am supposed to sign all these?” I ask Shadda, rifling through papers. Procurement. Purchase. Enquiries. New deliveries from suppliers. Application for more staff.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
I look up to find Shadda gone and the chair empty. My hand is reaching for one of the pens in a transparent blue pen holder on the table when I change my mind about putting my signature on the documents before me. I still feel out of depth in my new role.
There is a knock on my door thirty minutes later and my secretary enters with a small glass tray of breakfast. As she lowers the tray to the table, I study her closely and make my assessments. Mid to early twenties. Pretty if you ignore the slight pinch of her mouth. Gray pin striped suit but flattering on her slim figure nonetheless.
“If you need anything else,” she says, straightening back up to smile at me. “You can call me on that.”
‘That’ is the intercom sitting next to another phone on my table. I nod and give her a smile of my own. My secretary, Rita walks away with brisk steps to the door and leaves me with the tray of sandwiches, hot water in a small glass pitcher, a tea cup, two tea packets, a small sachet of coffee and a ceramic pitcher holding milk and a sugar bowl.
Four hours and several restless pacings after, all I can think of is leaving my office, but it is only one in the afternoon. I wish Shadda was here for conversation but she has refused to answer my summoning. I decide to pass time watching the ocean outside my window, but I lose interest after a few minutes. I walk back to the file on my desk again.
This time, the documents look less intimidating and I manage to sign a few. Reclining on my seat after closing the file, I lift the travel document up and study it.
“Hotel Novotel London…Tower Bridge.”’
I notice that the document says reservations have been made and immediately push back to my desk to tap the computer on my desk back to life. A cursory check at the icons on the desktop reveals a browser. I open it to Google and begin my search.
There is nothing much to learn about the hotel. I move the cursor past the tabs on the sidebar and read the letters on them.
“Rooms…bar and restaurant…services and leisure…with family.”
I sigh and move to the side bar on the right side of the screen where I find the words ‘rates and reservation’ and write down the numbers I find there. I am punching the numbers into the phone beside the intercom in no time. I introduce myself to the polite sounding voice at the other end of the phone. When the call ends, I have more information than I really care for. I try not to dwell on what I have learned.
“Richard can do whatever he likes with himself,” I tell the empty room with a shrug.
I struggle through another hour of sitting behind the desk. Finally, I check the time and find out that it is a quarter past three. I tidy up the desk and pick up my handbag from the table. When I step into the outer office, my secretary is talking on the phone in a low tone. I give her a wave to stop her from hanging up the call as she appears to hurry up the conversation. The hall outside my secretary’s office is a long one, but I manage to find the door with the letters ‘CEO’ after two minutes of walking through it.
Richard’s secretary is a warm looking elderly woman with gray hair and a genial smile. She wants to know who I am. When she learns that I am Richard’s wife, she begins to reach for the intercom on her desk and then stops midway.
“I think you should go in,” she says, returning her hands to the papers in front of her. “You are his wife after all.”
I smile at her and walk to Richard’s door. I fold my right hand to a fist, preparing to knock while the left hand holds on to the handle, but the left hand goes to work before I get a chance to bring my knuckles to the door and I stumble inside Richard’s office.
It is all but a fraction of a second and the picture of the woman with arms around Richard’s neck sticks to my mind like glue. Even as she steps away from him in shock, I can still see her in her former position. Richard is cool when he turns to me.
I breathe in deeply and say, “hi, umm….sorry for disturbing you, but I just came to let you know that I am ready to start leaving and umm…..maybe you could call the driver or something.”
I don’t wait for Richard’s reply before I turn away and leave the office. The elderly secretary stares at me in concern as I thank her. I hear her thinking,
Poor thing, I just had to let her see that.
All through the ride home, I concentrate on the image of my baby and banish the unsettling picture of Richard and Tokunbo to the back end of my mind where a ton of useless information is. The house is quiet and very welcoming. I look for Toju and find him in the arms of the new nanny in the nursery. The woman, Mrs. Akinyemi is a rotund shaped woman with a kind face. She tells me Toju just woke up and she was thinking of warming the milk I squeezed into his bottle before leaving this morning.
I thank her and lift my squirming excited baby into my arms. Ten minutes later, his small stomach is bulging with milk and Toju is happy to go back to the nanny for his evening bath. I am relieved to just lie back in bed and not think at all.
I wake up with a start and check the time. It is almost six in the evening. I stretch and leave the bed for the bathroom. My reflection is inconsolable the moment I release her.
“No, no, no.”
I watch her wail into her counter top and then raise teary eyes to me.
“That witch, she is trying to steal my husband.”
I shrug and begin to unbutton my top. “She can have him.”
“Don’t you dare say that,” my reflection hisses, shaking her fist at me. “She cannot have him.”
I try to be the voice of reason. “They were dating before I came into the picture.”
“But he married me!”
I reach for the button on the back of my skirt and unsnap it. “Yes, but maybe this is the way it should be.”
My reflection gives me an adamant shake of her head and begins to pace her bathroom furiously. “The worst part is seeing her stand so close to him….putting her face in his neck,” she stops to lean to the mirror, her hand clutching the counter top of her sink, “his neck? Can you believe that?”
“You are obsessed with his neck,” I tell my reflection with a click of my tongue and head for the shower stall.
As the hiss of water from the shower fills my ears, I can still hear my reflection complaining from the mirror.
“He is mine. She had no right to put her hands on him.”
Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.
I hear her shower stall slide open and close. I shake my head and concentrate on squeezing sweet smelling bath gel on my body. Feeling reinvigorated minutes later, I stand before the mirror again, but it is empty. I hear my reflection moving around somewhere in her bathroom.
“You know,” she says, returning back to the mirror in her towel seconds later. “I think you should do more than stand and watch her snatch your husband from you.”
“The last thing I want to do is fight over a man.”
“This is not just any man,” my reflection says, following my actions of massaging my cream into my body. “This is Richard.”
“I already told him he can keep a mistress.”
My reflection caps the cup of her cream and slams it down on the counter top, “big mistake.”
“You know, they are even going to stay in interconnecting rooms in the hotel in London.”
“I know,” my reflection says with a frown. “I so hate this.”
“I don’t care.”
“Oh well, I do,” my reflection says, lines of sadness on her face. “I have to think of something.”
I lean on the counter top with my elbow, my hand supporting my chin as I watch my reflection begin to pace up and down her bathroom, repeating to herself,
Think of something. Think of something. Think of something.
She stops and walks back to me with sagged shoulders. “I can’t think of anything.”
A long sigh, “Maybe you should just take a walk and clear your head.”
I look at my reflection for a long time and then agree with her. “I think so too.”
I walk past Chika’s house and admire her lilies once again. I think of her briefly and hope she is doing fine. I make a mental note to call her tomorrow. The day has grown dark and the cars that drive past me begin to turn on their head lamps. The evening breeze teases my hair and brings it all over my face but I don’t care to push back the strands of hair that keep blocking my view. I retrace my steps back to the house after walking three streets. I am just turning into my street when I hear jogging behind me. I instinctively inch closer to the street kerb, leaving more space for the jogger to pass but the sounds of jogging completely disappears when it gets close to me.
I turn to see a man smiling at me. He is tall with broad shoulders. The small scar above his right eyebrow gives him a roguish handsome look. He is smiling at me while appraising my gray tunic top and tight black jeans pants. I check his mind and see only admiration.
“Enjoying your walk?”
“Yes,” I tell the man with a small smile.
“Do you stay around these parts?”
“My name is Jude,” the man says, offering me a hand.
“Tamisho,” I tell him, taking the offered hand.
“Hmmmm, never heard that name before….Nigerian?”
I laugh and nod. “Yes.”
My laughter dies down under his watch and I tuck my hair self consciously behind my ear. Jude tells me that he lives in the street behind my street. He says he is recently divorced and has just moved back from Atlanta to start a new life in Nigeria. He looks visibly crestfallen to hear that I am married but asks for my number anyway. I am still wondering if giving him my number is the right thing to do when a tinted black Mercedes pulls up beside us. I recognize the car immediately.
“Hi,” Richard says, his face expressionless as he looks from me to Jude. “You want a ride home?”
Jude senses a connection between me and Richard, and steps back with a smile. “It was nice meeting you,” he tells me, giving me a small salute and resuming his jogging.
I almost tell Richard that I will walk back home and decide against it. I enter his car and ignore him as best as I can.
I look up from the book I am reading to the door. “Come in.”
Richard walks into the room and I replace the book divider on the open page of the book.
Richard’s “hello” is almost too low to be heard. I curl my legs under my body as he sits on the bed. His presence in the room is bringing back the memory of the encounter in his office this afternoon.
“Sorry about what you saw.”
“I don’t care really.”
Richard looks at me with narrowed eyes, “Really?”
A shake of head is Richard’s next response. The room is quiet and Richard considers his hands while I look at the curtains with enough concentration to make them move.
“She is my ex.”
I stop moving the curtains and shrug. “Cool.”
“She just started working with me.”
“What you saw this afternoon…”
I raise my eyebrow at Richard. “What about it?”
“That was a friend comforting another friend.”
I am turning back to the curtains and telling Richard “great” again, but I freeze at the sight of his hand on my knee.
“Please don’t do that.”
Richard ignores my plea and moves his hand slowly upwards till they are now settled on my thighs.
I try to sound forbidding. “I really want you to stop, Richard.”
His eyes dark with something ominous that sends waves of panic unsettling my stomach, Richard moves me from the bed with little effort and I find myself straddling him.
“I think you should move to my room,” he says, deft fingers unsnapping my bra.
“No,” I moan and gasp at the same time. “I think it is a really…”
I stop to gasp as Richard continues his exploration, his eyes fixed on me. Afraid to let him see too much, I turn and hide from his eyes. My safe spot is his neck. I do everything not to breathe him in but I fail miserably. My reflection was right. He really smells divine. I pull back and look at the sturdy neck only inches away, trying to understand my reflection’s obsession with it. Then I shock myself when I lean back to it and suck lightly on it. Richard groans and moves me back to the bed.
“That settles it, you are moving to my room tomorrow.”
I blink up at Richard as he stands up and moves to the door, still trying to understand what just happened.
“And, please next time, try not to stand talking to strangers on the road.”
My sanity slowly returning, I fold my hands against my chest in defiance. “Why?”
“Because you are my wife.”
I think about Novotel hotel. “And it is fine for you to travel to London and stay in interconnecting rooms with your operations manager?”
I almost kick myself for the way I sound but Richard shrugs at the door.
“I am not too sure about that one,” he tells me and then closes the door as he leaves the room.
In the bathroom, my reflection is beside herself with happiness.
“Yippee! I got my husband back! I got my husband back!!”
I watch her dance in her red shorts and black tank top for a few minutes. “I don’t know about moving to his room though.”
“What?” My reflection stops her dancing to blink at me in horror.
“I am still thinking about it.”
“There is nothing to think about. Just move!”
I sigh and tap my chin thoughtfully. “What about Tokunbo?”
“We will think of something.”
“And I met someone this evening.”
“Please,” my reflection says, rolling her eyes. “Not that Jude guy.”
“He seems pretty nice.”
“Did you see the vegetable caught in his teeth?” My reflection asks, opening her eyes at me. “I bet he does not even floss.” My reflection gives a small shudder and continues, “thank you but Richard is more my type.”
I brush my teeth and switch off the light. My reflection is still dancing in the mirror when I leave the bathroom. There are days I let her keep her freedom. Tonight is one of them. I look around my bedroom before going to sleep and whisper my greatest fear to Shadda.
“I am scared. I don’t want to like him.”
– To be continued…
Umari Ayim is the author of ‘Twilight at Terracotta Indigo’ and ‘Inside my Head’ both winners of the 2011 ANA NDDC Flora Nwapa prize and 2012 Poetry prize respectively.
Umari blogs at www.umariayim.com and tweets from @umariayim