As the work day drew to a close, my nerves predictably started to jangle.
I had a blind date.
And despite what I’d thought earlier about this being a good idea, I was no longer sure that I should have let it happen.
This was my second blind date in not such a long time and after the trauma the first one dealt on my self esteem, I didn’t know what to expect from this one and I wasn’t feeling too optimistic.
As I shut down my desktop I tried to tell myself that Derin wouldn’t play me. He was my friend and he wouldn’t set me up with a guy that wasn’t a legit prospect.
And he basically said no pressure so I needed to just set my self to enjoy a nice night out with someone that was most likely intelligent, worked an interesting job and was maybe even good looking.
At the thought of someone good looking my mind flashed back to Etomi and I sighed because, let me not lie, this had been happening a lot since Rib day.
I didn’t hope for someone of his unfair level of fineness… but, that said, let it be known that he had really ruined my standards. In my mind now there was fine – and Etomi fine.
And everyone fell short of Etomi fine.
Maybe this was what Akudo had meant when she said you just didn’t get over him.
Why did God even make specimen like him and dangle them in front of defenseless women who have zero chance of not falling for him from a distance and breaking their own hearts?
I realized that for the umpteenth time I was dwelling on my friend’s ex and I raised my hand and smacked my own cheek. “Stop it Gigi!” I muttered to myself, “let’s behave like a sensible, mature woman for once!”
So like a sensible, mature woman I switched off my work phone, snuck away from the office while my boss was caught up in a meeting with his boss and I drove my way to the assigned meeting place.
It was a tiny new restaurant in VI called Kitchen. Going there was the one thing that I was looking forward to since I’d been dying to try out their whole thing which was Mother’s cooking cuisine.
My hands were still sweating on my steering wheel by the time I parked, sha. I was early so I sat in the car for about 15 minutes redoing my make up and reciting mantras like, “you’re a sparkling, multifaceted diamond,” and “this isn’t going to suck!”
After one last just-in-case reapplication of deodorant I forced myself out of the car and marched into the dimly lit and still nearly empty restaurant.
Thirty minutes after sitting down with a stiff smile and well into my third tall glass of water with a slice of lemon – I began to wonder if I was about to be stood up.
I had checked my phone a million times just to make sure I hadn’t somehow tripped on a time stream and showed up too early. Or maybe even on the wrong day.
My hands started to sweat again because the waiters had started to give me pointed glances.
Really, my inner paranoid said, is this that big of a surprise? When have you ever had any luck with guys?
Maybe this was my punishment for not calling Akudo and telling her about the whole thing.
I’d thought seriously about checking in with her before leaving from the office. At least letting her know that Derin had called and what it had been about. Full disclosure and all that.
My inner paranoid wanted to just keep things open and non-shady so that they wouldn’t come back to haunt me in the future. I even picked up my phone to call but then an even more paranoid voice in my head asked me; if Derin calling me wasn’t anything – wouldn’t it become something the minute I called Akudo specifically to tell her about it?
What good could possibly come out of that?
At best, Akudo would talk me out of the whole date thing because if she didn’t organize it herself she would automatically dismiss it as bound to fail (and now it looked like she would have been right).
At worst I would literally be asking her to become suspicious about my relationship with her husband…
Not that there was anything to be suspicious about. If there was one person that could be over confident about her relationship, it was Akudo. But how humiliating would it be if she believed that I believed there was something worth being suspicious about between me and Derin?
I was over thinking it again, I know, but as I have emphasized before, this is my nature.
So, I’d decided to put the whole idea of telling her on hold for a while and get the date out of the way first.
I deeply regretted it now. I wanted to call her, let her help me laugh at the whole situation and maybe come join me so that I didn’t have to be disgraced in front of these waiters.
I was literally reaching for my phone when it rang.
“He’s coming, Gigi!” he said urgently into my ear as soon as I picked up, “Are you there already?”
“Kind of,” I said weakly.
“He got held up in an unexpected meeting and he couldn’t even call out till now. He asked me to tell you he’s so sorry and he’s on his way right now.”
“Ok,” I said.
“Have you been waiting long? “ Derin asked. There was flattering anxiety in his voice, “if you don’t want to do this anymore it’s completely cool, I can still call him and cancel. You don’t even have to worry yourself.”
“No, I’ll stay.” I insisted, “I always wanted to try this place out.”
“Are you sure, Gigi?” he asked.
“Of course!” I chirped.
Another half hour later and I was regretting once again.
I was still alone and (after the harsh discovery that my glasses of water and lemon slice were not free) I had found that my funds would only allow me to enjoy one glass of Chapman and the ambiance. The looks the waiters were giving me now were downright judgmental. I almost cried with relief when someone finally sat down opposite me but that emotion turned to shock when I saw it was Derin, post work with his tie loosened around his collar and his sleeves rolled up.
I eyed him suspiciously. “Uh… what happened to Aesop?”
Derin looked apologetic, “Flat tire.”
I was beginning to feel Aesop had more in common with his Greek name sake than just the name.
So I’d been stood up for a blind date that I didn’t even beg for.
If I ever agreed for one of these things again, ehn…
“Gigi this is all my fault, I’m sorry.”
I was actually inclined to agree with him on that so I said nothing choosing to simmer instead in delayed feelings of humiliation.
“I’m actually surprised… Aesop is one of my most reliable friends. I was going to make him Godfather to my first born… and if we ever get a first born…”
I looked up at him startled at this insinuation that there were also baby issues between him and Akudo.
I found him watching me sadly and it dismantled the resentment I’d been feeling towards him.
It also brought back my wariness. I did not want to hear this. I didn’t want to know a single thing more about their drama.
“Let’s just say you owe me and call it a night,” I suggested, “no need to rescind anybody’s Godfather rights. It’s not that deep.”
“I do owe you,” Derin said enthusiastically, “let me pay you back right now. You said you wanted to try the food here, right?”
I did but that was before the waiters had started judging me.
“Guy, I’m tired. Being stood up takes a lot out of a girl,” I said.
“Then order to go,” Derin countered me firmly. “Order anything. Order everything. I’m willing to go bankrupt here.”
I probably should have said no for pride’s sake but now my inner longa throat was awake. For goodness sake I’d sat in this restaurant for over an hour smelling their tantalizing Coconut Jolly and plantain fritters while showering my grumbling stomach with cold water. All this while my waiter watched me as if I was a food thief. My inner pettiness was awake too.
“Derin, are you sure?” I asked just to be nice, “the prices here are kind of…” I jerked my thumb upwards.
“Please Gigi,” he said looking genuinely offended. He picked up the menu and handed it to me. “Go crazy.”
So I did.
And oh I enjoyed the transformation in my waiter’s expression from “Wetin be dis” to “Ha, Oga Madam welcome O!” so, so gratifying…
Even when I would hesitate, Derin would look through his menu and be like, “but don’t you want to try this?” or “if you don’t want it, I do”
Before he was done we must have run up a bill in excess of eighty something K over his friend standing me up and my pride was over avenged. In fact I was starting to feel guilty despite myself as our takeaway boxes were wheeled towards us in batches.
Derin did not flinch at the bill. He barely looked at it before handing his card over to the waiter who took it from him like it was a holy object.
“Thanks to you I’m going to have good lunch boxes at work for the next month,” I told him, “I can’t believe you let us order this much… I feel like I’m cheating you somehow…”
“That’s because you haven’t yet realized my insidious, underlying motive…” Derin said signing the receipt that had been handed to him decisively.
“Hah?” I asked bluntly. I mean there was a limit to how guilty I was feeling O.
“Would you consider giving it another try?” Derin was now pinning me with a level gaze.
“What?” I asked because he couldn’t possibly mean –
“The boyfriend search. It doesn’t have to be Aesop. I have other good friends.”
My mouth was still oily from the bribe I had devoured but I started to frown. “But Derin – why are you giving yourself assignment that has no credit?” I asked, “are you seriously telling me that you spent this kind of money just so I could continue going on your blind dates?”
Derin frowned too looking a little hurt, “No-oo… I spent this kind of money because we were having fun…”
I looked skeptical.
“Honestly! I came here because I couldn’t just tell you that Aesop wasn’t coming over the phone when you’d already been waiting for him – I know I said I was making it up to you and partly I am – but I was also just enjoying myself… I thought you were too…”
Of course I was. And it was really tacky of me to question the meal after I’d eaten it but… I just felt like I wasn’t getting the full picture here.
Looking across the table now at Derin who was frowning down at his napkin as he twisted and untwisted it like a scolded kid I wondered if maybe there wasn’t a fuller picture than this. Maybe this was just what it was and I was lucky to have a cool guy friend who thought it was fun to hook me up on dates with his buddies and also occasionally buy me lavish dinners. Maybe I should look at it like having an older, wealthy brother.
Maybe I should find my inner graciousness and stop looking a gift horse in the mouth.
“Don’t mind me Derin,” I finally said, “I’m just feeling guilty because – you know there’s no way I can return the favour…”
The cheer began to cautiously creep back into his expression.
“What favour? And don’t feel guilty,” he said, “I’m the dummy who tried to turn a nice time into a bribe. You can just pretend I never said that…”
“I’m not going to pretend O!” I quickly stopped him, “I appreciate what you’re doing – helping me meet someone – especially since you’re not acting like I’m some object of pity” I added recalling Foluso’s expression at work earlier.
“Why would I?” Derin asked looking lost, “You’re letting me match make you with my friends… you’re doing me a favor.”
I preened a little on this take on things. I had to remember to explain it to Foluso this way.
“Thank you, Derin” I said feeling a little embarrassed to be saying it so late.
“No need to -” Derin’s face froze as his gaze caught on something behind me, “…son of a b*tch!” I saw him say just under his breath as his expression darkened.
“What?” I asked alarmed and twisted round in my seat. Then it was my turn to freeze.
My heart sped up as I watched the familiar tall, striking figure of Etomi walking into the restaurant, led by the establishment’s Maitre d’ and ushering a woman in a slinky camisole and palazzo pants in front of him by the small of her back.
I was damn well close to having a heart attack until they both sat and I was able to catch the woman’s profile.
It wasn’t Akudo.
I literally slumped in my seat.
“That a**hole said he was travelling!” I heard Derin mutter and I looked up to see him glaring at Etomi’s table.
Fear caught me that they would see us so I picked up the drinks menu which our flustered waiter had left behind and used it as an impromptu cover, “Guy,” I whispered urgently at Derin who was still glaring, “let’s fade!”
Derin gave me a distracted look, then one that was more truculent. “Why?” he demanded.
“Because you’ve already paid!” I answered in what I hoped was a reasonable tone.
Derin’s glance just narrowed suspiciously. “Are you hiding?”
I was. I didn’t even know why.
“I’m not hiding – I just don’t want him to see me,” I muttered from behind the drinks menu.
“Why, though?” Derin asked then his frown deepened, “wait – have you guys… met since then? Did he do anyth -”
“No and NO!” I hissed, “He just makes me uncomfortable – and it’s obviously the same for you! Let’s just leave before we end up in a confrontation!”
“He doesn’t make me uncomfortable, he pisses me off!” Derin grumbled but, to my relief, he was already dropping a tip on the table and getting up. I grabbed my bag and as many takeaway bags as I could handle then hustled out of there without a backward glance hoping that he would follow without too much commotion.
Outside I breathed a sigh of relief and started to head to my car only to be stopped by Derin’s hand at my elbow. I turned to look at him in surprise.
“Gigi, can we go somewhere else?” he asked.
“Why?” I asked baldly. I wanted to go home.
“I’m irritated and I don’t want to be alone.” he said. And he looked it. His face was stiff with disapproval and his whole demeanor was tense. I sighed internally and said goodbye to the food coma I’d been secretly looking forward to.
“Where do you want to go?” I asked.
Half an hour later we were at a cigar bar on Awolowo Rd. that I’d followed him in my car to. We sat at the bar and I immediately asked him, “You’re not going to drink, right?” Because I didn’t plan on being a designated driver.
He gave me a smile that did not reflect in his eyes. “Sorry” he said and ordered a neat scotch. I tried not to feel resentful as I ordered a virgin cocktail and after they came we sat sipping our orders in silence.
After two whole jazz tracks had gone by in his sullen silence he finally turned to me. “Why do you think he’s still here?” he asked.
“Derin…” I began.
“Am I being unreasonable?” he cut me off, “I shouldn’t be suspicious?”
“Of course not!” I reassured him a little faintly. Dear God, I thought, get me out of this…!
“They dated before right?” he asked his eyes drilled into me as if he knew I wanted to escape, “When? For how long?”
“Dude,” I said nervously, “why are you being like this? You know I wasn’t really friends with Akudo till she came back to Nigeria. I barely knew her in secondary school…” I said evasively.
“But she said you both know him,”
“Ehn, we went to the same school but that doesn’t mean we were friends!” I defended.
“So why does he make you uncomfortable? What happened between you three?”
This was getting too much for me. In truth, nothing happened between us three. Something happened between them two but that was really not my gist to share and I resented being the one given the third degree over it.
“Derin, I think I’m going to go” I said getting off my bar stool, “you should call an Uber to take you home when you’re done.”
Suddenly my arm was being gripped and Derin hung his head in front of me. “Sorry… don’t go, Gigi… Please.”
I paused reluctantly.
“You’re kind of being a dick,” I told him.
“I know and I’m sorry. I’ll stop. please just stay with me for a bit more?”
I hesitated. “You can’t get drunk!” I gave my condition.
“I won’t have anything after this drink,” he promised me earnestly.
“And – ” this one was harder to say, “I think maybe if you have questions about Etomi… you should talk about them with your wife…”
Derin raised sad eyes to me, “I was being inappropriate, I’m really sorry Gigi. The last thing I wanted to do was make you uncomfortable.”
“Well… yeah… you did…” I huffed.
“I won’t do it again.” he said resolutely, “please sit.”
I heaved a weighty sigh and climbed back on to my stool. Derin watched me with a small grin. “You were really gonna walk out on me!”
“See you,” I sniffed half jokingly, facing my drink, “don’t try me in this place… just because you bought me jolly…”
“Ok, listen but can I just ask you one thing…” he said suddenly shifting closer.
“Derin – ” I started, leaning away warily.
“It has nothing to do with Akudo… it’s about you… and that guy…”
That shut me up and I eyed him with trepidation though I actually had nothing to hide.
“Why does he make you uncomfortable?”
Ok, except that.
But that’s just for the sake of my pride. Who wants anyone to know that they’re still dying for their secondary school crush it was beyond embarrassing.
“Maybe uncomfortable was a strong term…” I hedged while I mentally searched for a good lie that would put an end to this line of questioning and save my pride, “it’s like I said – even though we went to the same school I don’t know him like that so it’s a bit awkward between us,” I finished weakly.
“Dude – you hid behind a menu,”
I really did. Why did I even do that? What was wrong with me?
“I was taken by surprise, ok?” I said fanning myself with a flyer from the bar counter and not meeting his over curious gaze.
“Ok,” he said, “I’ll let it go for now. But if you ever want to give me the real gist, i’m here for you.”
“There is no real gist,” I groaned sensing that this might become a reoccurring examination.
He let it go after that and his good mood seemed to return. We spent the rest of his scotch on light banter and gossip about his friends but it was still a work night and I was tired. After a while I could actually feel myself begin to droop.
My relief was profound when he finally called for the bill. I offered to pay for our drinks out of courtesy. He gave me a worried look and whispered the price in my ear and I surreptitiously returned my ATM card from whence it had come.
Outside he walked me to my car and lingered, watching me with what I can only describe as a fond smile.
“I’ll definitely get you a boyfriend,” He said suddenly, “But after that I’m going to miss this.”
“What? Sketchy parking lots?” I yawned deliberately misunderstanding him to keep the tone light.
“Hanging out with you like this,” he said, “just gisting.”
“Why would that change just because I have a boyfriend?” I asked.
He shrugged with one shoulder. “You’ll have him by then.”
“And? I’ll have friends too.”
“I dunno,” he said lips curling again in that warm way, “if he’s anything like me… he’d be jealous about you hanging out with other guys,”
I squinted at him thinking that was probably a correct assessment of his relationship with my friend. “Ok, then don’t get me that kind,” I told him.
His smile widened.
“Give me a list of what you like” he suggested, “I’ll find the perfect one.”
“You’re taking this so seriously,” I observed still confused at it all.
“Yup,” he agreed then glanced at me, “want to know why?”
I nodded enthusiastically. I knew there was something and I was dying to know what I was missing.
“Hold out you hand,” he said.
I stared at him as if I suddenly didn’t hear English.
“Hold out your hand,” he insisted, “and close your eyes.”
“Why?” I asked with open suspicion.
“Do you want to know or not?” he asked folding his arms in front of him.
I wanted to know.
I held out my hand and let my eyes fall closed.
For a moment there was nothing.
Then I felt his big hand engulf mine. I was starting to frown at the fact that there was nothing in it when warmth touched my lips and hesitated.
I turned into a jpeg. I could not move to save my own life.
The warmth – full lips touching mine – pushed gently against my mouth, trailed side ways, brushing erogenous nerve ends on its way, then disappeared.
I didn’t even dare open my eyes. I stood there with my hand jutting out even after he let go.
I heard him say something just under his breath that sounded like ‘sorry’ and then heard him walk slowly away.
My eyes opened of their own accord only after the sound of his BMW jeep filled the parking lot. My mouth fell open too as I watched his car pull out of his space and then drive out of the parking lot and away.