Rose heart had never stopped beating all through the ride to Chris’ house, she was worried sick about Princess and his persistent calls had did nothing to make her feel at ease. Chris lived on the mainland, somewhere around Maryland. It had been his house before he and Zinny bought the mansion in Lekki but the house became hers after their divorce and he had had to relocate to the mainland.
Rose didn’t think he minded though; he was obviously contented with getting custody of their daughter and so had not raised so much dust over wanting a share in the house. But then again, that was the Chris she had always known from their band days. He had been that calm, intelligent, and diplomatic band Manager who kept everybody on level head and made sure the band never lacked a constant stream of gig and outings.
You could confidently say that Zinny owed part of her success in the music industry because of his shrewdness. She had sought him out immediately after she returned to the country, and seeing how dysfunctional the ‘Orange Crew’ had been after Zinny’s absence, he had taken up her offer and managed her to a successful music career.
Too bad they had complicated that relationship with marriage and a bitter divorce. Chris had never known how to manage Zinny as a wife, she had a stubborn and selfish streak that kept them at opposite angles most of the time especially during the later years of their marriage.
But the one secret neither he nor Zinny had known was that she had always had a huge crush on Chris; a crush she was starting to believe was more of a deep feeling for him. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have lasted all these years right? And it wouldn’t have somehow subconsciously kept her love life hanging in the hopes that he would one day realize that she was the woman made for him.
Rose shook her head at that thought and chastised herself. She was being utterly ridiculous and selfish. She could never get involved him for all the right or wrong reasons! He was her best friend’s ex, he took away her daughter and she strongly hated him. And in solidarity she should not be thinking of them as an item much less a couple; it was such a betrayal of friendship. Any other man but Chris would do; she didn’t even want to think of the scandal that would cause.
Rose breathed and calmed herself; why was she getting worked up over her single-to-stupor imaginations? She wondered. The reality was that Princess needed her help and that was the only business she had with the Lange’s. Any other thing her messed up brain and disconcerted feelings chugged up will only be disastrous.
Her phone rang again, it was Chris. It served as a reminder of her main business and why she had been driving over 4 hours now.
“Hello Chris, Just give me like 10 minutes I held up by traffic at the roundabout, but it’s pushing through. How is she doing…? Ok, keep her calm I will soon be there.” She said and ended the call. The traffic warden waved at cars on her side of the road and she sped off.
Rose felt a light touch on her face and that stirred her awake. At first she could remember where she was and why her body seemed uptight. But when princess hovered over with a big charming smile, she recollected where she was and how she had gotten there.
“Oh God… how are you dear” she said smiling and raised herself up. Gush, how had she slept in this tiny bed? Her intention had been to relocate to the couch in the living room after putting Princess to sleep. The little girl had been in a terrible state when she arrived late yesterday night, refusing to sleep, crying and requesting to be at her brother’s birthday and see her mother.
How she had found that info out, Chris could not say. But thank God she had been able to goad her into eating, taking her birth and rocked her to sleep. Too bad, she had also rocked herself to sleep on her tiny bed; so much for insisting on driving back to her apartment in Lagos Island, regardless of Chris’ objection.
“Did you sleep well darling?” She asked and pulled the child to herself.
“Yes Aunty Rose.”
“So let’s get you ready for school” she said and that caused a giggle from the child “Why? What did I say wrong?” she added pleasantly bemused
“Today is Sunday!” Princess screamed excitedly
“Oh Right, it is. Arrgh”
Princess giggled at length again.
“Hello young lady, stop making fun of your aunty or I’m going to do these…” Rose drew her in playfully and began a pseudo-wrestling dwell with her. This only made process more giggly with her a raised voice. Unknown to them, Chris had walked into the room and stood watching them play, a joy feeling his heart. But finally he spoke up
“Hello Sunshines, I see it was a great night indeed” he said cheerfully.
Rose raised her head up and smiled at him while princess ran to meet his father. She started straightening out her rumpled clothes and disheveled hair.
“Good morning Daddy, Aunty Rose thinks today is Sunday!” She blurted gleefully to her father
“Oh did she?” Chris replied smiled at Rose who was standing beside the bed now.
“She just wouldn’t stop teasing me and that’s why I wanted to teach her a lesson” She said and acted like she wanted to come at princess again but she ran out of the room laughing.
“Go straight and brush your teeth, I’ll fix breakfast” her father called out and she responded from outside the room. “I’ve not seen her laugh so hard for such a long while, Thanks Rose” he added.
“Sure… anytime” Rose said without looking up at him. He was wearing perfectly a loose armless Jersey and shorts and suddenly made her feel disheveled and ugly standing before him.
“I guess my work is done. I should start going”
“What! No! Might as well cook for us, the housekeeper doesn’t come in on Sundays. Please Rose stay a while, today is Sunday, You don’t have somewhere else to be early this morning right?
“Then stay a while, I don’t want Princess to relapse soon. Don’t ruin her happy mood”
Only because of Princess, she told herself and shook her head.
“Good! Come right this way, there is a spare brush you could use. The guest room is there if you want to shower or something before you cook” he said leading her out of Princess’ room. “That’s it over there” he said pointing at a door at the far end of the hallway”
“Thanks, I’ll just brush and be right out” She said and walked briskly past him. Why was she so self-conscious around him just like a love-sprung teenager, she wondered angrily at herself. They had known for years but at a close-enough distance. He had never been interested in her while he managed their band and did the policy against inter-band relationship held her at arm’s length. And while he was married to Zinny, they couldn’t be any further apart, only exchanging cryptic pleasantries whenever their path crossed.
“I’ll get everything ready in the kitchen” He called out and took the opposite direction.
Later when Rose walked into the large Kitchen that also doubled as a diner, Chris was absently drinking from a glass of water as he scrolled through his phone. On the kitchen table were a loaf of bread, butter, milk, eggs, spinach, cabbage, fresh tomatoes, pepper and so on. It was like he had dashed off to the market in that short space of time, that had to be the plausible explanation. There was no way a bachelor could stock all these things in their kitchen now, was they?
“Quite some food items you got here” she observed causing him to raise his head with smile and put his phone away.
“Oh well, Mary, My housekeeper is obviously outdoing herself. The lady just doesn’t want to lack food in the house and I believe it as much for herself as it is for us.”
“Whoa! I don’t even have this much in my fridge. She is so a foodie”
“So what am I preparing?” Rose asked looking up at him. The little refreshing she had was obviously boosting her confidence, plus she had seriously nagged herself out of her silly giddy feelings. Chris was as much as any other man she had seen before, so there was nothing special there, just over hyper hormones.
“Oh no I’m not doing that… you decide! You don’t know how relieved I feel having not to bother about what Princess and I would eat today, out of options stocked in that fridge by Mary.”
Rose laugh, typical male she thought. “Okay then. I have so many options myself with this ensemble. How about Sandwich? I remember Princess loves those a lot.”
“Still does, only Mary doesn’t know how to get it right.”
“Sandwich it is” Rose said smiling and started with the preparations.
Chris silently watched Rose move deftly across his kitchen, setting up the toaster, putting on the electric kettle and chopping away at the vegetables. She easily found whatever utensils she wanted like she had kept them there herself. A good thing because it would have been futile if she had asked him especially since he knew nothing about the appliance in his kitchen save from the Microwave.
But here she was working away like it was a natural thing to expect. Give Zinny the same opportunity and she would whine and bicker the appetite out of you. How he had survived that marriage for 7 years was beyond him.
They had been no translucent week with her; it was always one issue after the other – centered on her musical career, her son and then their daughter when she came. His life had only been an existence lived to champion her cause and still get rebuked in the process for being egotistical and difficult.
Chris felt a chill pass through him as the thought of his failed marriage came to the fore; it felt like he was reliving those years again and quickly he whisked himself back to the present, to the delicate aroma of diced vegetables pervading the air and the wonderful woman working away in his kitchen. He had every reason to be happy he told himself and pushed thoughts of Zinny behind him.
He looked at Rose now, really looked. She was the kind of girl you could refer to as plain; her beauty would pale if she were to be compared with Zinny, but on her own, she stood out. She was just the same height with Zinny, standing on 5.6” dark complexioned with moderate woman curves.
Of course she was fatter and prettier than when he’d first known her managing the Orange Crew. She had been the back-up singer that never went beyond what was expected of her. Had also been Zinny’s shadow and obviously not much had changed in that area.
Watching her deeply concentrated on her task he wondered what made her tick; all that years and he knew nothing of her except as Zinny’s confidant. He wondered why she was still single despite being matured and successful, because as far as he could tell, there had not been any significant man in her life or had they?
She was the rare stock of women who were die-hard faithful and loved deeply. Any man would be lucky to have her as a wife, he thought. He wondered then what how his life would have been if he had chosen her instead of her friend; what being loved by a selfless woman would look like? But the train of his thoughts startled him. Where the hell had that thought come from?
Wanting to break the silence before his mind wandered any further, Chris spoke up; however Rose had wanted to speak too and so they both spoke at the same time resulting into nervous laugh from both ends.
“You go first” he quickly said.
“No, you…” She was saying nervously
“I insist.” Chris said.
“Okay I just wanted to ask about Princess, she’s taking quite a lot of time in there”
“Oh, you haven’t seen anything yet. She’s going to take even more time priming herself to perfection. I don’t understand where a five year old picks up such narcissist tendencies at this age.”
“You needed to ask? Have you forgotten who her mother is?” Rose joked.
“Well that explains a lot” Chris scoffed distastefully.
“Come of it, Zinny is not a monster you know” she defended
Chris frowned. “Only you can say that Rose”
“She is my friend and I understand her… to some extent.”
Chris rolled his eyes and scoffed. “I meant to ask, what is this rumour the tabloids are parading about Cal’s birthday party?”
“What rumour, I didn’t know you were still interested…”
“Of course I’m not; I manage other artistes too and as a rule of thumb check authority blogs every day.” He said rather vehemently.
“Okay… so touchy” Rose breathed quietly but loudly she continued. “Well the details are sketchy as I know it. But he’s some guy from her past”
“The same guy we all know right, Cal’s father?”
“I was wondering when that dude would come take his son away from her, Zinny isn’t fit to raise a child… and before you defend her, hear me out. This is not some personal B.S against her; I know what I’m saying”
“Okay…” Rose faced him squarely, halting the last of the carrot she had been chopping.
“Well, we can’t deny that she loves her children. But sometimes, it’s in her nature to manipulate situations to her own benefit. Why has she over the years tried to erase the existence of this guy from his son’s life?
The day I heard Caleb ask about his father, she told him he was bad and didn’t deserve to be in their lives! But this same ‘bad father’ sends a yearly fund of over a million to her account for his school and upkeep and she keeps it all a secret. The least she could have done was to foster a father-son relationship between them because it is very obvious that man loves his son”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Rose I had access to her finance as her ex-manager so I can tell you emphatically that I know what I’m talking about. Even though we all know Zinny is capable of taking care of Cal single handedly, she shouldn’t have served him such lies not when his father shows concern and I wouldn’t have minded. There are just so many flaws to that woman that I cannot even begin to comprehend.”
“Zinny is such a complicated being and I cannot defend her here if what you say is true” Rose replied and continued with her chore while contemplating the reveal.
And after a stretch of silence, Chris spoke calmly:
“Why do you stay with her?”
Rose glanced at him, she poured all the items she had chopped into a glass-bowl and then turned to face him, after some contemplative seconds, she replied:
“So many people have asked me this same question and the answer I always give is: ‘Zinny is my best friend.’ We’ve been through tough and good times together, and she made me part of what I am today as I have also done for her.
Back then in school, she was my backbone and defender… ever so generous with me, needless to say that she is a very big factor to me completing my education and law school. I only got to apply for law school after she returned to the country and after which she help me set up.
Suffice to add that I wasn’t such a smart and self-assured lady growing up but she has rubbed that on me… she may not be the best wife, mother or sister to everyone but she is a good friend to me.”
“Well… you’re the best thing to ever happen to her too, don’t ever forget that…” Chris replied and stood up after some seconds. “Let me go get Princess or else we won’t eat breakfast today I bet you.”
“Oh Please do.”
When Karimu, the gateman of the ‘Okoro’s Villa’, told her that a man had been waiting outside the gate for her, she had a gut feeling it was Mark. This is because since two weeks after the incidence at her nephew’s party, a day had not gone by without his incessant calls though she had refused to pick any.
And now, watching him across the road leaning on his car with a dejected visage though his dapper appearance, she pitied him. She had asked Karimu to bid him leave for she wasn’t seeing any visitor but he had adamantly stayed around, pressuring their gateman. And so wanting to be rid of him for good no matter how heartbroken she also felt, Oluchi strolled over to meet him.
Mark’s head was bent over the roof of his car so he didn’t see her approaching. The ray of the sun was melting his inside despite the cap he wore, yet he couldn’t bring himself to get into his car and drive off.
And so for the past 30 minutes or more he had been standing here hopeful and praying that the stoned-face gateman would deliver his plea of mercy again to the love of his life, and that she would come speak with him so his life would become calm again.
If this had been in his earlier years he mused, he would have easily found a way to get through the thick skull of the unyielding man through whatever means possible; but those days were behind him now and all he could do was wait and pray.
“Mark” He heard her familiar voice call behind him and swiftly he turned.
“Hi, um hello… how are you?” he said quickly. Her appearance (a jean short on a tank top with jacket and fluffy slippers) with hands crossed in stern demeanour did something to his insides and instantly negated the harsh kiss of the sun.
“What are you doing here?” Oluchi asked unsmiling.
“I came to see you.” Mark replied contritely.
“How did you find where I live, or wait, it’s what you do best isn’t it?” she eyed.
“No Oluchi, this was my last resort, you were not picking my calls so I had to seek you out.”
“Well, not picking your calls should signify that I don’t want to speak or see you again right?”
“Why? I can’t accept that; would you not hear me out at least?”
“The time for all that is passed, it is better we part ways and….”
“No, don’t say that please. Don’t you believe all Zinny said about me, at least let me tell you my side of the story.”
“I don’t even care to hear that now. Why didn’t you tell me all that when we first met?”
“I was waiting for the right time.” He stressed. “It’s barely a month we’ve known each other; you don’t expect me to lay all that on your table just yet? I was waiting for us to build… to build more trust and understanding before we can start talking about our pasts”
“Then it’s a good thing we didn’t get to the trust building phase because I don’t want to be involved with… with you. I’m sorry Mark, but this should be the end of the journey for us.”
“Please don’t say that.” Mark groaned.
“It’s better this way don’t you see? No heart is broken, no unfulfilled promises. We can simply forget we ever even met.
“What are you saying to me? I can’t forget you! Not when you’re the best thing in my life right now. My heart will be broken beyond words my love…” Mark took off his cap; it was probably downplaying the agony he felt inside.
“Just give me a chance to make things right. All you’ve heard is my past and I am not proud of it. You can’t just believe every word your sister has said! Knowing how she is, she would have painted me in the worst image ever”
“Really? Do you then deny that you’ve never worked as a thug for a man named… err… err…”
“I don’t work for him anymore and that is all that matters here.” Mark cut in. “I quit that part of my life 5 years ago; five good years since I walked away and never looked back. Doesn’t that count?”
“No Mark, it doesn’t change anything. I can’t just forget it like it never happened. I know about those awful years of her life too and how it affected my family. I heard things about the people who took her from us… and I can tell you they were not good stories.” Oluchi paused and took a deep breath. “Mark, please let just end this.
If you don’t want to, I will. You may have changed I don’t doubt that but I don’t want that kind of complication with my life. So, this is it for us.” Oluchi said with finality and turned around without waiting to hear from him.
Mark watched her go. The only words ringing in his head was that she had called him a complication to her life; and maybe she was right. But his own truth was that he loved and didn’t want to lose her.
As Oluchi dashed for her parent’s guarded villa, she knew she had not fully revealed how she felt inside. She liked Mark and may have started loving him; but hearing those vile things her sister said about him killed whatever spark was lighting up in her heart for him.
Maybe he had truly changed, maybe he regretted those years, maybe he truly loved her, maybe Zinny had painted him all wrong, maybe she should give him a chance to explain himself… maybe this was a test, just maybe! But no, she didn’t want the hurdles loving him would bring to her life.
Her father would never accept him and she didn’t want to be with a man he disapproved off, it would break his heart. Zinny would further push her away for still choosing to stay with him despite their pasts. And after all is said and done, family should always be her priority. She was the better child, wasn’t she?
Zinny was having a hard time figuring the terms of the contract she was presently reading. It was an endorsement deal for a new hairline and it should pretty be easy to grasp; the fact however is that her mind was on something else. Her son was returning from school late again; his caregiver had said this was a pattern constantly repeating itself for the past two weeks.
She would have noticed if she had been fully around but rehearsals, meetings and studio session had taken most of her time after his birthday; not forgetting to add that it was a welcomed distraction from the new plaque in her life. Kamal had miraculously steered clear of her path after their last encounter and she was basking in it.
Her son’s late arrival was however making her very apprehensive and worried. She looked at the clock for the umpteenth time; it was way beyond his arrival time. What could be the problem? She wondered. His school would notify parents beforehand if they would be delays along the way, but she hadn’t heard from them.
Since the past one hour she had been intentionally waiting to welcome him home from school and use the opportunity to patch up some of the rough edges and rude vibes he’d been giving her lately. Patricia her PA, had of course taken the opportunity to bug her with work stuff even though she didn’t mind. But now she was steady losing her patience.
“So what do you think about it?” Patricia asked Zinny, she had been carefully studying her boss read the contract document from across the parlour where she sat.
“Go and Kal’s nanny, whatever her name is?” Zinny said and tossed the document on a side table close to where she sat.
“What?” Not the answer she had been expecting.
“Call her for me! I don’t have time for this. Incase you didn’t notice, my son is not yet back.” Zinny replied impatiently.
Patricia, knowing that her boss’ mood had shifted quickly went to fetch the nanny.
“Where is Caleb?” Zinny asked soon as they walked in.
“Ma, he is not back from school” Oyin replied
“Well, why is that? Today is Friday so he should be back. Is there an extracurricular activity I don’t know about?”
“Err… ma, he will soon be here. I’ve called the driver and he said they would soon be here”
“I don’t get that, why is he been delayed. You say this has been happening for the past week. Why haven’t I heard about it? Why isn’t the school saying something? This is all wrong. Patricia get me across to the admin of that fucked up school, I don’t get what’s happening here!”
“Calm down Miss Zinny, it’s probably just a delay.”
“That’s not what I asked, go do your job or get the hell outta my face!” Zinny barked causing both ladies to scurry away for their phones. While both ladies were still busy on calls at the top of their voices, Caleb walked in holding onto his father’s hand.
Zinny froze in moment.