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The restaurant was quiet, apart from the clinking of cutlery against ceramic, and the muted music from hidden speakers. Outside the glass wall on the east side, dusk settled over Lagos, lines of standstill traffic covering the asphalt beneath.
He looked across the table at her, wondering if she ever took off those glasses that made her look like a prim librarian nursing deviant sexual fantasies. After weeks of riding on the same elevator with her at work – she got off on the fifth floor, he on the twelfth – he’d finally summoned up the courage to ask her if she knew of any good restaurants around; he’d only just moved to Lagos.
‘I’ve heard good things about Horton’s, but I haven’t tried it myself,’ she said.
He watched the indicator until they got to the fifth floor. She gave him a polite smile and stepped out. And just as the doors were closing, so did he.
She turned to look at him. He swallowed.
‘Were you maybe… planning to go to Horton’s one of these days? Or weeks? Maybe?’
She gave a slight frown. ‘Not really.’
‘Well, perhaps… we could check it out. Maybe one day, after work. If you want to, of course.’
She shrugged as she turned away. ‘Okay,’ she said, hurrying off down the hall.
He stared after the door she’d disappeared into for a long time. Then he got back into the elevator and rode to his floor.
Over the next couple of days they made and remade arrangements in the seconds they rode together, and now here they were. Here he was, on his first date in ages. And one he had made happen all by himself too. He felt proud, and he thought she looked happy – or at least not unhappy. Might there be a second date in the works? He had a good feeling about this.
Everything was going very well. Then she ordered efo riro with her rice.
She didn’t mind him. She didn’t mind him at all. He seemed… nice enough, in spite of the bland-ish conversation. She tended to avoid guys like him, sure that their perpetual uncertainty would drive her mad. But maybe she had been wrong. She found his constant hesitation, his need to check everything with her first, and repeatedly, somewhat affirming. She could get used to calling all the shots. She could get used to being the one fawned over, the more-liked one. The centre. She watched him take another sip of his sparkling water and knew he would be as delicate with his woman as he was with that glass. Even the way he nibbled on his food was careful, like he didn’t want to offend the fries. She could do with some of that in her life.
The date – and he hadn’t used the word but the way he’d been looking at her she would bet he’d thought it – was going well so far. She wondered where she’d have them go the second time around. He would probably make her choose again.
She looked across the room, saw a man rise from a table. Her heart stopped for a moment, and then she laughed loud so it would carry. She leaned forward to touch her date's arm as she laughed, hoping the last thing he said had been even remotely funny. The man across the room looked her way and their eyes met.
He felt guilty about the green thing that had been stuck in her teeth the last ten minutes. With every passing moment he urged himself, ‘tell her now!’; but then she would say something and he would lose his resolve. It distracted him, that piece of efo riro that clung to her teeth like a needy child. The waiter had cleared their plates away, and still he couldn’t bring himself to say the five simple words: There’s something in your teeth.
To mask his guilt, and to distract himself from the vegetable which he now imagined to have taken on a neon green, he talked on and on, hoping to keep her mouth shut with his excessive words. He was on about his former place of work when her laughter startled him into silence. What was so funny about him having worked at Halliburton for five years.
‘Hello, Helen,’ a voice said.
He looked up at the man that had stopped beside their table.
Helen grinned at her ex of less than four months, then she stood and let him kiss her on both cheeks.
‘Tunde,’ she said to her date, ‘meet Felix, an old friend. Felix, Tunde.’
She sat as the men shook hands. She looked up at Felix again, her smile smug. He would see in that smile that she was doing well, and would no longer be calling trying to convince him to take her back. He would see that she would now be the more-liked.
She said, ‘Tunde works with–’
‘Helen,’ Felix said, tapping his teeth. ‘You’ve got something…’
Tunde was immediately remorseful, and more than a little annoyed with this Felix. What business of his was it anyway that something was stuck in her teeth; he would have gotten round to telling Helen himself. Eventually. Helen was moving her tongue over her teeth, her eyes fixed on the table cloth. She must be so embarrassed, knowing that all this time he had seen. Or could he pull it off, pretend he hadn’t noticed it?
Felix turned to him. ‘You didn’t see it?’ he asked.
Tunde was caught off guard. ‘I … I…’
‘Excuse me,’ Helen said, standing and hurrying toward the ladies’. Both men watched her leave.
‘Well,’ Felix said, his smile white and perfect, ‘I have to run. You kids have fun.’
Tunde barely heard him. He was thinking what he would say when Helen came back out. A joke might be good, to soothe her embarrassment and ease the awkwardness. Yes, a joke would do. Then he realized he didn’t know any.
Helen emerged from the bathroom and took her seat again, her face blank. Tunde struggled to find the right words, even as Helen avoided his eyes.
‘Good thing he wasn’t an ex, right,’ he said. ‘That would have been even more awkward.’
The only laughter Tunde heard was his own.