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“Bad guy.” Dan said as Tari walked into the house. Dan struck a pose in his briefs, one of his camera’s hanging around his neck, while the girl he had come home with in the early hours of the day, took pictures of him with the other camera. Tari ignored him and headed to his room. He lay on the bed. June’s scent still lingered. He accepted the fact that he liked it, she smelt pretty amazing, felt amazing too. He’d only held back from taking things further last night because he didn’t want to come across like he was taking advantage of her. They’d had pizza and beer sitting on the balcony, gisting about life and stuff, catching laughs and looking at the night sky. Before either one noticed it, the pizza was all gone, so were the 6 cans of beer and the time was already past 1am. He couldn’t possible send her home at that time, plus Dan had taken his car.
He got up and looked out of the window, he recalled, vaguely, the story of Philip and the Ethiopian in the Bible, one of the few things he remembered from his Children’s church days. Something about taking an opportunity when it presented itself. ‘Here is water, why shall I not be baptised?’ the Ethiopian had said to Philip who had just preached the Gospel of the risen Christ to him. Tari thought it was a pretty apt admonishion for him presently. ‘There was the girl, why should he not have her?’ right? There was a slight rap on the door. He turned around as Dan came in. “Sup?” he asked. “Narin much. I want to drop her off.” Dan said. “How old is that girl?” Tari asked concerning the girl Dan was with. “19.” Dan replied. “Looks like 16 to me.” Tari said tossing the car keys to Dan who caught it then stuck up his middle finger at Tari before leaving.
Tari’s thoughts returned to June. There was no reason, really, why he could not or should not date her. She was gorgeous, driven, comfortable, presentable, fun, the works. If he told Dan all he had done was cuddle all night while trying not to embarrass himself, he’d laugh him to scorn. There was no other woman in the picture, he was just plain lazy when he was not busy. Clearly, June had seen that and had lent him some help. He had never invited her to his place but she’d taken the initiative and invited herself. He didn’t know how she had pulled it off but somehow, he could neither bring himself to resent her nor count her as cheap or desperate in light of the move she’d pulled on him yesterday. He undressed and got back in bed. He still had a few hours before his lessons, he decided to catch up on the sleep he’d missed last night. Her scent enveloped him as he drifted off.
Becky greeted the security guard as she passed his post. It was the 3rd week of lessons with Tari. He had proven to be a good student, diligent and obedient. He never failed to put in effort and so far had not missed any classes or assignments. It was easier than she had anticipated. She had not failed to notice that things had picked up between Tari and June. She didn’t mind it one bit. What really annoyed her was Dan’s access to her. He would walk her to the road each time she was leaving. He was a good conversationist but Becky could not bring herself to enjoy his company because she knew exactly what he wanted. All the nice guy attitude was a ploy but she was not falling for it. Once he had insisted on dropping her at home. The good part was he was rarely seen during the lessons with Tari. And anytime he appeared, he made a point of moving swiftly and silently.
But the moment she ended the lesson and was heading for the door, he’d magically appear and begin his sport. As she stood by the road waiting to get a cab, her phone rang – Alfred. Since the credit alert, he had been calling and sending her messages. Still hoping to see her at her own convenience. He didn’t show any signs of giving up. She knew she would have to see him soon, she didn’t want another call from Sope or some other ‘concerned’ party. She ignored the call. Then another, and then a third, fourth and a fifth. It was strange. He’d never called more than twice in a row since all of this started. She was beginning to feel uneasy. “Could there be an emergency? Had something happened?” she thought as she looked at her phone contemplating whether to call back or wait and take the next one. She didn’t notice a blue sedan pulling up across the road.
As she made to put the phone back in her jean pocket she heard her name from across the road. She looked up, exiting from a car parked across the road was Alfred. He had a slight smile on his face as he crossed the road towards her. She took a few steps back wondering if she should make a run for the house, but that would be silly. She stood ramrod straight as he enveloped her in a hug. A stream of images flashed before her as a million memories were awakened. “Becky!” she heard him say. She pushed against his chest and he let go. “What are you doing here?” she asked. Anger had begun to replace the initial consternation. Flight or fight; she could not flee, she had to fight. “I was coming from church, heading home, when I thought I saw you on the road side. So I called and saw you take out your phone in the mirror. But you didn’t answer, so I turned around.”
She looked at him, into his eyes, but he never blinked nor averted his gaze. She turned away, making to walk further up the road. “Could he be telling the truth? Or had he somehow tracked me down?” she wondered. Only her immediate younger sister had been here and she was sure Jessica would never give Alfred her address. “Becky.” he called. She heard his footsteps rushing towards her before his hand grabbed her arm. She spun around and slapped him so hard across the face her palm stung. “Go away!” she yelled. Alfred stood still, looking down at her. She knew if he lost his cool, she was done for. But why she had done something so foolish, she didn’t know. He smiled, the surprise on his face replaced with something of a mix – amusement and concern. “I’m sorry, Becky. I truly am. And I deserved that and much more. I am sorry. Let me make this right.” he said.
“What do you want from me?” Becky yelled. “I just want to talk.” he said raising his hands, palms forward making her flinch. “Sorry.” he added quickly putting his hands down. A few meters away, Becky noticed 3 people starring at them. She’d rather not make a scene so close to her home and work place. “I don’t have the time. Have a lesson at 1pm.” she said. “Ok. When can we see and talk?” he pressed. “I don’t know, Alfred. I have to go now.” she said turning around once more. Before she could take 3 steps, he was in her path. “Alfred! What is this?” she asked as he got to his knees. “Please, B, let me drop you off at your lesson.” he said. The onlookers had multiplied at this stage and everyone in passing vehicles were starring. “Alfred, get up! You are embarrassing me!” she said. “Let me get the car around and drop you off.”
It had been a quiet journey. She saw Tari’s building ahead and was glad the ride was over. Alfred had tried to make small talk,he’d even joked about the slap saying it reminded him of the day he broke his mum’s standing mirror. Becky knew that story, it was a funny one, but she made sure to hide her smile by looking out the window. He told her the car, an Audi A4 2006 was his’, business was booming and he had decided to move to Abuja. His hope was that while he went about his business, he’d one day find her. “I prayed to find you, Becky. God answers prayers.” he said as he pulled up at the gate to Tari’s house. She looked at him. “Could this be real? All of this?” she thought. “Look, Becky. I know all of this may be too much for you to take in all at once. Why don’t you let me pick you up after the lesson? We’ll be able to talk then.” he said as he disengaged the central lock.
“I don’t know, Alfred. Give me time. I’ll let you know when we can see again.” She said, opened the door and got out. Alfred got out too, “Hey! Let me invite you to my church.” he said, he got his Bible and pulled out a brochure which he passed to her over the top of the car. She took it. “Would be nice to have you in any of our services. I’m in the ushering unit.” he added. She looked at the brochure, it was a church she’d heard of but had never been to. She and June had been to quite a few but had recently quit all together. “Ushering unit? That explains the suit and tie.” she thought, then said “Thanks.” and walked away. She could feel two pairs of eyes on her. She knew one set were Alfred’s, the other set were high above her. She looked up to find Dan looking down from the balcony of their 5th floor apartment. Another pot of anger began to boil within her.
“Ok. That’s fine. See you next week.” Becky said as she packed up her stuff. They’d not made as much progress today. “I’m going to pick up June. If you’ll wait a few minutes, we could ride together.” Tari said getting up. “Ok. That would be fine.” Becky said, delighted. She could not handle another run-in with Alfred nor Dan’s conversation while he walked her to the road as he always did. “Cool. Let me change into something else. I’ll just be a minute.” Tari said. He’d received an SMS from June about and hour into his lesson
“tinkin abt u.”
it had read. It had put ideas in his head and he’d been barely able to concentrate. But he’d also noticed Becky was off her stride, she’d made a lot of errors, stuttered quite a lot and lost her train of thought a couple of times. “Something is bugging her.” he thought as he changed into fresh clothes. He made up his mind to ask her.
It was not quite 15minutes into the drive when Tari said “What’s the problem, Becky. You seem a little disturbed today.” Becky did her best to hide her surprise, “I’m sorry” she said. “You don’t have to be. I was not complaining about it, this is me showing concern.” he replied. “Thank you. Its nothing really.” she replied unable to make eye contact with him. “You sure?” he pressed, taking his eyes off her and back to the road ahead. “Yes.” she said daring to look at him. “Aii.” he said without as much as a glance in her direction. “I really should mind my business.” he thought. He knew Dan had not made any progress with Becky. So far she was effectively stone-walling the guy. She had still not given up her number, it was not looking good. She was not exactly friendly with him either, she was plain professional and that suited him just fine.
“He invited you to church?” June asked, honestly surprised. Becky nodded and retrieved the brochure Alfred had given her from her handbag. The ladies had not had time to talk since Becky’s encounter with Alfred. June had been out pretty late with Tari and had returned after Becky had turned in for the night. Being a Monday, both had rushed off in the morning to work. Becky had gotten back home early but June had only just returned and Becky had just filled her in. “He’s a pastor or something now?” June asked looking through the brochure. “He said he’s an usher.” Becky replied. “Do you believe him?” June asked. “Honestly, I don’t know.” Becky replied, “The church stuff is easy to verify, but only God sees the heart, Becky.” June said, looking the brochure over again. “You really need to think this through.” she added then enveloped her friend in a warm embrace.
“Did Tari ask you anything?” Becky asked, “Tari? About?” June inquired pulling back to find a worried look on her friend’s face. “I don’t know. The run-in with Alfred kind of affected our lesson. I had issues concentrating and he noticed.” Becky explained. “Ok?” June said, “He asked on our way here, but I instead it was nothing. Was just wondering if he mentioned it to you.” Becky explained. “No, he didn’t.” June replied, now worried herself. Becky sighed. “Babe, do not let Alfred mess up what you have going for you. It’s important for you to do this right and I don’t have to remind you how important it is that he also gets quality coaching.” June said. Becky nodded. June leaned back. She was worried not only for her friend but more about Tari and how a breakdown on Becky’s part would affect the dynamics of things. She wondered why Tari hadn’t mentioned it to her, though.
Tari put down his iPad. He’d just finished another language exercise online. It had been 5 weeks since he started the lessons and he was more than satisfied with the outcome. Even Dan had noticed his improved fluency and agreed Becky was good at this after all, grudgingly he’d even agreed it was worth the costs. It was a quiet night. Dan was off to an event and June was going to be on the night show at the radio station. He’d set a reminder to listen from 11pm. He thought about work, it was a struggle keeping track of all his other projects. The buzz in the office, the bulk of the correspondence, meetings and talk was about the Mozambique deal. It was taking longer than expected, the partners were drowning in paper work, reports and plain red tape. But like he’d told his boss, they all needed to strap in for a long haul. Huge payouts demanded huge commitments.
The church service was fun and had just ended. Becky looked at her watch, she thought it was a good sign that the service had ended almost at the the publicised time. She’d not seen Alfred, that was in no way odd – the auditorium was large. She had not gotten up during the welcome of 1st timers, insistent on keeping a low profile like June had advised her. She had to be cautious. She knew how churches did follow up on 1st timers, she wanted to be able to sever ties cleanly with the church, so, there was no point giving out her information. She took out her phone and called Alfred for the first time in over 6months, dialled out of the call log – she still had not saved his number. “Hello, Becky.” his voice came over the line. “Where are you?” she asked “You came?” he replied. She could hear the excitement in his voice. “Yes, I did.” she said with a smile.
“I thought you would not!” Alfred said as he manoeuvred the car out of the car park. “I told you I would try.” Becky replied, looking at him again. No suit and tie today. “That was last week. Since you didn’t come last week, I thought not to pressure you about it again today.” he said grinning at her. She nodded. “I’m super glad you came. Your lesson is for 1pm, yeah?” he asked “Yes.” she replied. “Have you had breakfast?” he asked, “Not yet. Was planning to grab a bite on my way.” she replied. “Great! There’s this Sunday buffet at this place I recently discovered, very nice. We could stop there, I’ve had nothing as well.” he suggested. “Ok.” Becky accepted. Truly she was terribly hungry, having left for church at a little after 7am with not as much as a bite of anything. “If you don’t mind, I’ll like to make a stop at my place.” he said “Wanna pick up my debit card.” he quickly added.
At Alfred’s place where, according to him, he shared with a friend, Becky refused to get out of the car. He didn’t push it, he simply left the AC on and left to get the card. Becky noticed he’d also changed his shirt and shoes when he got back in the car. He held the debit card up for her to see before putting it in his pocket and driving off again. The breakfast was nice like he’d said, Becky liked the ambience and the food was good. Being a picky eater, that was saying a lot. Alfred did all the talking, she was either simply looking at him, nodding her agreement or giving 1-liners. He didn’t seem to mind, he just went on in a cherry mood. It was like meeting a different man entirely. Becky could not bring herself to believe he’d changed. To her, he was merely putting up an act. “What are we doing here Alfred?” she suddenly interrupted him. “What?” he asked surprised.
“Yes, I know we came for breakfast, but why are we really here? Tell me the truth. You have wanted this for weeks. Sister Sope called me to agree to this. Now, here we are. Kindly tell me, honestly, why are we here?” Becky asked. “Becky, my life has not been the same since you left. Yes, I’v had some victories. Business is good, very good, I’v moved out here, a much better place, a clean slate. Investments are yielding. I’m a better man, worked on myself. I’m more frugal now. But the emptiness you left me with? I’ve never been able to fill. I want you back, B.” he explained. Becky’s pulse was racing as she said “I don’t believe you, Alfred. That’s the truth.” “I understand, it would take a lot more than words to right the wrongs I’ve done you. But please, find it in your heart to forgive me. This is for real. I want you to be wife.” he replied, fishing around in his pants pocket.
Becky could not believe her eyes when she turned to face him again. Her head exploded in a blasting headache. There in Alfred’s palm on the table was a sparking silver ring. “Actions speak louder than words.” Alfred said. Becky had looked forward to this moment in her life for long. She’d always wanted Alfred to propose to her, make her his’ forever and together they would make it last. Yes, she had longed for it; but not today. “You must think I’m such a little fool, Alfred. I can’t believe you’d take this charade of your’s this far.” Becky said, trying hard to keep her voice down. “Get that filthy piece of metal out of my sight!” she added. “Calm down, Becky.” he said, pain in his voice. “I’m not buying all of this! You stalk me for weeks, pretend to run into me on the road, show me a Bible, invite me to church, act all nice, bring me to a buffet!” she said, laughing bitterly.
“Becky, please, this is not a scam.” Alfred pled. She was having none of it. She picked up her bag, got out of her seat and walked away. She was in such an anger-fueled daze, she didn’t remember how she stopped a cab and got in it. Alfred could not make it out in time to stop her. She had run all the way to the road from the exit. Having to pay the bill with his card had not helped matters, it was not exactly a snappy process. He gave up and sat back down, completely dejected. He’d never felt so much rejection in his life. He was doing all he could to put his past behind and make things right, still it hurt like a gunshot to the groin. He’d known it would not be easy, but he’d not thought it would be this hard. He took a long look at the ring before he slipped it back into his pocket. He looked around the place catching a few stares, “Hope maketh not ashamed.” he murmured.
“What is the matter, Becky?” Tari asked. He’d exhausted his patience with her. Since she had come in, she’d been acting odd and making errors about everything. She’d actually said “Good morning” when she came in at a few minutes past 1pm. “Nothing. I’m ok.” Becky replied, unable to meet Tari’s gaze. “Becky, you are not ok. Quit lying, you are not very good at it.” he countered. “Its nothing, Tari. Please, let’s get back to these translations.” she said, trying to deflect the inquiry. There was no way she was going to open up to him. It was a professional environment and she intended to keep it so. Tari was exasperated. Whatever was going on with her had started to get to him. He took a deep breath and tried to relax. It wasn’t working. Becky turned her attention back to his laptop, holding tightly to the reins of sanity. She could get through this. She had to.
She tried to minimise a window, but somehow, she didn’t know how, she ended up closing it. “Damn!” she swore. “Becky?” Tari called. “I’m sorry.” she said, unable to him. “You are fired.” he simply said and left the table.