“Sorry I haven’t been in touch – “
“No o, it’s fine. I haven’t been around myself – in fact I’m still out of town now.”
Frank stopped tapping on his worktable at the excitement in Idowu’s voice. “Out of town? Where did you go to?”
“Oh? What’s happening in PH?”
“Nothing – well,” Her voice was lowered. “Nothing,” she continued. “Just spending time with my boyfriend.”
Frank grinned. “Boyfriend! Well, that’s good news.”
The next minute he would have smacked himself.
“Good news? Oho – so you’re happy to be rid of me abi?”
“You know that’s anything but true,” Frank sighed. “I’m just happy you’re happy. That’s all.”
“Hmmm.” Idowu was skeptical. “What’s going on with – “
“Is he treating you right? You know, I can still punch o.”
Her laughter was rich. “I’ll be sure to warn him.” There was a small silence; the comfortable silence of friends. “I’d like to see you when I’m back, Frank. I’ve missed you.”
“I hope he didn’t hear you say that,” he submitted. “Actually I’ve missed you too.”
They said their goodbyes and he hung up. Placing the phone on the table, he grinned and stood up, carefully running his finger along the edge of the silk gown he was working on. He smiled again, thoughts of what Priye would say if he found out that he; Frank had not slept with Idowu filling his mind.
“Penny for your thoughts,” came from the door.
He was smiling as he put the dress down because he knew who spoke. Her voice did something to his heart; it gave a little jump – also whenever she was around.
It was her; Sofia.
“Actually, you should say ‘kobo for your thoughts’,” he said, slowly looking her over.
It wasn’t like she was wearing anything spectacular, but her rolled up pink shirt and blue jeans looked far from ordinary. Her hair was done up in a ponytail and she had a small bag slung around her shoulders. Adding to the incongruous picture was the roast corn she was munching on.
Far from red carpet material; but she was perfect in his eyes and he said so.
“Oh shhh jare,” she said, averting her eyes but not before he spotted the shinny smile that had all her teeth on display. “Thank you. How are you?”
He pulled her into an embrace; pressed his lips to hers briefly. She pushed at his arms and he relaxed them, letting her go – but when he saw her lips were stretched in a happy smile he pulled her close and kissed her again.
“Okay o – it haff do o, oga Franklin. Do you want to finish everything in one day?”
Shaking his head, he squeezed her to his chest till she squealed and pulled his right ear. Howling, Frank set her down hastily and grabbed the smarting appendage. They looked at each other; his mouth open in shock, her looking all defensive while trying not to laugh.
She couldn’t fight it.
Both of them literally let go of their tummies, laughter spilling from their core like vomit – but a lot less messy. Outside Frank’s office, Alhaja and James looked at each other across the room and shared an intimate smile.
Oga remembered how to laugh. Life was good again.
From his seat, Frank looked at the girl who was looking everywhere but at him.
Sofia’s humor and light-heartedness was a palpable force that pushed itself past his defenses into his chest; into his heart. He liked her quick, easy smile; he liked how she fussed over him. It’s nice to have a woman do that again; he reasoned.
A frown appeared on his face as that line of thinking opened up a new one; Igo and Efe. He still hadn’t talked to Igo since then; and he’d been ignoring Efe’s calls. The frown deepened as he wondered what exactly he was supposed to say to his ex-wife.
“It can’t be that bad,” Sofia said next to his ear.
He was startled; he hadn’t realized she’d left her seat. He closed his eyes and allowed her cradle his head on her small but comfortable bosom; enjoying the soft scent that wafted from the valley between her breasts.
“I like that perfume – or is it body spray – you’re wearing. What is it?”
His eyes were still closed but he could tell she’d brought her face around to stare in his. “Really?” she asked. “You bought it so you ought to know.”
“Hmmm-mmm,” he sniffed and smiled. “I have good taste.”
She kissed him shortly. “I’m enough proof of that!”
As though on cue, there was a knock on the door. Sofia straightened – but kept her arms around Frank’s neck. He opened his eyes sluggishly. “Yes?”
The door opened and James came in carrying a tray on which a bottle of Etana water, a pack of juice and a glass cup rested. Pushing the door shut with his foot, he proceeded into the room, grinning at Sofia who retaliation grin was gamine-like.
“Hi again, James.”
He bowed from the waist. “Madam.”
She left Frank’s side and cleared the table in front of him, making space from James to set his precarious burden down. He made to open the water bottle but Frank stopped him; same time Sofia spoke softly; “Don’t worry James – and thank you. I’m sure I can open that.”
He bowed again and made his way out.
“How did he know to bring that?” Sofia asked as she rolled back her sleeve to pour water in the cup for Frank.
“It’s an understanding we have. We keep a small fridge stocked for our customers and guests – and he makes it his business to know what everybody drinks.” Frank shrugged. “He’s good at his job; he can sew both male and female clothing. I can only sew female.”
She smiled teasingly. “Womanizer, abi? She said, raising the bottle to her lips.
“It takes all sorts,” he retorted.
Sofia smiled as she drained the bottle. Covering her mouth, she belched and muttered, “Excuse me.”
Frank waved her away. “So, how are your exams looking?”
She perched herself on the table in front of him before answering. “Tough but nothing unexpected. It’s our finals after all, so it’s a bit heavy. But I’m fine.”
Suddenly Frank reached up, intending to pull her off the table and on his thighs, but as though she had been expecting it, a smiling Sofia danced out of his reach, laughing all the time. Frank made to stand up but just as quickly she danced back and pushed him into the chair, holding him there by placing a hand against his chest.
“Calm down bros,” she laughed in his face.
Frank laughed back, holding up his hands in surrender. “Okay – I’m calm.”
A small frown appeared in the middle of Sofia’s forehead as she regarded him pensively – and then she looked away, straightening herself. She leaned back against the table, looking somber.
Suddenly she turned towards him again.
“That night we saw each other again – that night at the club. Why did you grab my…my butt?”
That was one thing that often bothered Frank. He had thought over and over about his behavior that night and he couldn’t – he hadn’t been able to come up with a convincing explanation; even to himself.
“I don’t know, Sofia. I don’t. I think it was the alcohol – made me pretty reckless, but it’s not just that. There was a lot going on; I was in a funny place at that time.” He looked up at her, remorse aging him by ten years. “I’m still so sorry.”
“It really hurt me,” she said, looking down at him. Taking his face in her hands, she looked in his eyes. “It’s okay. I just needed to know.”
His hand reached and clasped one of hers. They went on staring at each other – until a knock interrupted.
“Yes?” Frank said, slowly pulling away from Sofia.
James walked in. “Oga, I don ready to dey go o. Shey you still dey?”
Frank nodded in the affirmative. “I need to finish – “
Sofia interrupted. “Is anybody else around?”
James shook his head.
“Then I need to leave too. Frank, I’ll see you some other time. James, can you find me a taxi?” She turned around the table and picked her bag.
Frank was incredulous. “What’s the sudden rush? Are you upset or something?”
Sofia halted and smiled at Frank – a smile designed to defuse the tension and it worked perfectly. “Baby, you know it’s late and I have exams tomorrow. Please understand – “
“I do, I just…” he stood up, came from behind the table to hold her arms. “At least let me take you home,” he pleaded.
“I don’t want to interrupt – “
“Don’t worry. You’re not.”
“Hello Igo,” Frank said hesitantly.
“Hey Frank! This – I wasn’t expecting – “ she sighed. “I’m sorry. I’m just surprised.”
“It’s okay. I didn’t mean to throw you off or anything. I just thought to call you; you know and speak. It wasn’t exactly nice how we parted the last time.”
“No; it wasn’t.”
A tense silence engulfed from the phone to hold them both in its grip as they remembered the circumstances surrounding their last meeting. She had been – she was all he had known as love for a long time; and he felt as though things weren’t to be left as they were.
“Can I see you again? Can we meet and just talk?”
He could hear her smile when she said; “I’d like that very much.”
He was barely seated when the door opened and she danced in, looking as good – even better – than he remembered.
“Sorry I’m late,” was the brief greeting, but the way she hugged and kissed him softly said a lot more. He waited for her to sit and then he sat down.
“You look really good, Igo. Divorce must agree with you.” He saw the briefest flash of pain in the depth of her eyes and felt instantly bad. “Look, I didn’t mean – “
“I know what you meant, Frank. That doesn’t make it any easier to hear.” She inhaled and let the air out slower than she’d taken it in. “I still wonder why me. Why you – why us.”
Through clenched teeth, Frank responded, “God hates everybody.”
Igo leaned back in her seat. “Uhn. Is that how you deal with stuff these days?”
“Yes o; alongside the occasional smoke and drink.”
“Efe told me about the smoking.” There was an awkward pause. “Frank, I want to apologize. The Dapo thing? That was a mistake. It happened at a time I was lonely and sort of angry at you, and he just – “ she wavered. “I’m so sorry.”
Frank’s hands clenched and unclenched themselves. “No; please go on. He just – what?”
“Frank…can we just put that behind us? You don’t hear me ask about Efe now, do I?”
That was the wrong thing to say; as she found out looking at barely-contained fury threatening to explode from behind his eyes.
Through clenched teeth Frank spat words. “So what I did with Efe after we were no longer married is to be compared with what you did fresh into our marriage? That’s really good; thank you. Really – for that fresh perspective – “
“Don’t be so hard on me, Frank. This really hurts me too, you know.”
Pain was like a knife stab in his chest; staring at Igo as he was. He watched her face in profile; she was staring outside the café, surreptitiously wiping a tear off her cheek. His eyes stung; he waited patiently for the tell-tale wetness to creep down his cheek – and was surprised when none came.
He reached for her hand across the table and she gave it to him; squeezing his hand and he returned the pressure. There was nothing to say, he didn’t feel there was anything for him to say.
Her eyes searched his face – hesitantly – but when he smiled she smiled back.
“So,” he began, tugging her hand softly. “Are you seeing anyone?”
She dismissed his question with a wave of her other hand. “No o I can’t do wahala.” Spotting the skepticism on his face she pushed a wave of hair behind her head. “A couple of guys though – nothing serious.” Pause. “You?”
He shrugged. “Nothing serious – just passing time.”
Igo started to say something; her mouth actually opened halfway before she shut it tightly and swallowed. Frank raised an eyebrow to which she shook her head.
“How is the shop? James?”
He smiled. “Everything is well there. James has become very responsible these days.” Leaning forward, he took her hand in both of his. “You won’t believe who his new girlfriend is.”
Igo thought for a moment, smile on her face rivaling his. “I think I can.”
Frank shrugged. “Go for it then.”
“Nurse Joy,” she announced.
“What!” Frank sat bolt upright. “How did you know that?”
“Well…there’s this thing about us women. When we like a guy….”