|Image from here|
Warning: It's sappy, it's a bit cheesy, it's kinda old, and from my
pathetic attempts to write romance. Enjoy.
“So, I hope Tonia wasn’t too much trouble today,” Cheta said. He sat on the couch, his feet up on a stool, wearing Labake’s bathrobe like it had been made for him even though it was a few sizes too small.
“Oh, no, she’s been good. Homework’s done. I gave her a bath and she fell asleep right after dinner.”
Labake sat opposite Cheta on the floor. In the dim light from the candles she couldn’t clearly make out his features, but she could feel his eyes. There was still no light and the rain wasn’t letting up. Cheta and Labake watched each other in silence. Then he spoke.
“I can’t thank you enough for this; for all the help you’ve been with Tonia. I’m so clueless, I don’t know how I’d have managed without you.”
“Come on, you don’t have to keep saying it all the time. And it’s my pleasure, believe me.”
“Still, thank you.”
“Again, you’re welcome.”
Cheta smiled. Labake swallowed.
“Nothing. Just thinking out loud. I don’t know that much about you...”
“What else would you like to know?” Labake asked, her head cocked to one side.
“You could start with your family.”
Labake sighed and stretched her legs out on the floor. “There’s really nothing much to tell. My family’s a small one; right now there’s me, my mum, my younger sister, who used to live here in Lagos but has now relocated to Abuja, and my elder brother who’s in Germany with his family. My father died not long after I finished secondary school. And you met my mother the other day…”
“How could I forget,” Cheta cut in, smiling.
“Yeah… so, that’s it really. My sister in Abuja is married with two kids, and my brother’s also married and has a son, though I’ve seen him only twice; once when my brother came to Nigeria with his wife, and another time when I visited them over there. We’re quite close, my brother and I; although we used to be much closer before he moved away.”
“And your sister?”
Labake shook her head. “Nah. Not close at all. She’s always thought I was mum’s favourite, and… maybe it’s just me, but I get this sense that she thinks she’s in constant competition with me.”
“Why would you think that?” Cheta asked. In a perverted way, he was glad to learn that Labake’s family had their own issues.
“I don’t know... It’s just some of the things she says sometimes when she claims she’s joking. Like when she got her oil and gas job. She came into the house screaming, and we were all happy for her and rejoicing when she turned to me and said ‘You probably wish you were me right now, abi’, or something like that. I don’t remember the exact words now.”
“Well, maybe she was joking.”
“She certainly laughed, but I don’t think she was joking. And even if she was, you know what they say about jokes: sometimes the easiest way to say what’s on your mind is to say it as a joke. Oh, and there was her wedding. I was her chief bridesmaid, and at some point during the wedding preparations that morning, the best man told me he’d misplaced the rings, and I was really upset. I helped him search for it for a while, and then I popped into the room to see how far they’d gone with her makeup and everything; to know if we’d have time to rush out for another ring if we didn’t find the original ones. My worry must have shown on my face because as soon as I walked in she looked up at me and was like ‘Ah-ah, Labake, I know you’re angry that I beat you to it, but at least smile and pretend to be happy for me now.’ Those were her exact words, said with a smile, of course. I just turned and walked away. Thankfully, the best man was able to find the rings, if not she might have said I was the one who hid the rings to stop the wedding from happening.”
“But it’s not like you guys are sworn enemies or anything.”
“Oh no, we manage to keep it civil. And it’s not like she’s ever come out and said anything. And I’ve never confronted her about it, so… But we do get along when we need to.”
“So now that you’ve heard all my sordid family tales…”
Cheta smiled. “They can’t be all bad now, come on. I’ve met your mum and she seems nice and sane.”
Labake laughed. “She is, mostly, but she still can’t understand why I chose to teach children for ‘peanuts’ when I can be making much more doing something else.”
“Well, I’m sure she’s just concerned and wants you to be okay.”
“But I am okay, Cheta.”
“I can see that.”
Labake laughed quietly.
“Nothing… it’s just, my mum also can’t understand why I’m not married and producing offspring yet.”
“Why? She has three grandchildren already.”
“It’s not even about the grandchildren. I think she’s afraid I might be turning into an old maid.”
“And does that bother you?”
Labake frowned. “Not really. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to meet someone and fall in love and get married and have kids and all that, but I’m really not in a hurry. It’s an important decision, and I’m not going to let myself get pressured into making a mistake.”
“But right now you’re not…”
“Seeing anyone? No.”
Cheta contemplated that for a moment, trying not to show his pleasure.
“I don’t mean to sound like your mum or anything, but why not? You’re beautiful, smart, mature…”
“Wait a minute, Cheta,” Labake said, laughing. “This one that you are complimenting me like this, it’s strange. I’m used to you glaring and looking down your nose at me.”
Cheta laughed. “But seriously… and you have a good heart. You should have your pick of men, Labake.”
She shrugged. “Well, maybe I just haven’t found him yet. I’ve been in relationships before; I’ve gone on dates, but there’s just always something missing. I don’t know what it is, but I believe I’ll know when I finally find it.”
“Ah,” Cheta sighed. “The ever elusive ‘it’.”
“Yeah, what about ‘it’?” Labake said with a smile.
“Oh, come on. What, you don’t believe in ‘it’?” Labake teased.
“Okay, here it is. I just don’t know that this ‘it’ is a real thing. I mean, I thought I’d found ‘it’ once. And I was…” he chuckled bitterly. “…God, I was so sure.”
“And…” Labake urged.
“And it was a lie. The most brilliant, well played, painful lie, Labake. So if you ask me, I can live without ‘it’, thank you very much.”
They listened to the rain, which had slowed to a light shower, for several minutes.
“Labake, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she mumbled.
“Oh, God. I’ve upset you now,” he said, moving to sit beside her on the floor.
“Oh no, it’s okay. You were burned, and… and you have the right to your opinions,” Labake said.
She sat still, trying to stifle the panic she felt at his closeness. He should look ridiculous in that damned bathrobe.
“Well, my opinions don’t necessarily apply to you. Besides, I’ve been known to be wrong sometimes… more times than I’d like to admit, actually.”
They sat there, thighs touching, for a while. And then she made a mistake. She turned and looked in his eyes.
Cheta knew she could see it. He wanted to kiss her. No, not want. You don’t merely want your next breath. He was going to kiss her. He would regret it after, but he would deal with it then. He kept his eyes on hers as he ran his thumb over her cheek, moving closer.
He heard her catch her breath as he touched his lips to her neck, just below her ear. Then the line of her jaw. Then her chin. He lingered there, drawing a line with his thumb down her neck. He closed his eyes as their lips drew closer. It coursed through his veins, the thrill of finally knowing what she’d taste like.
They blinked as light suddenly flooded the room.