“Will you marry me?”
“Oh God…” Vicky mumbled, shutting her eyes with her thumb and forefinger. “Why? Why are you doing this?”
“I didn’t get a ring because…” Michael scratched the nape of his neck and got off his chair. “Vicky, you will make the perfect life partner for me. I mean, you complete me. Here, in the office, you make my work worth the stress and I know that if we take it to the home front, we will merge like magic. You really do make me happy and you’re… you’re so beautiful. Look at your smile…”
“I am not smiling,” Vicky whispered.
“You are now.”
And she smiled.
“Just say yes, baby.”
“Baby?” She smiled again. “Excuse me, sir, I am still your employee.”
Michael laughed and took her hand. “Say yes, Vicky.”
“Michael, I… This is so sudden. You took me by surprise.”
“I know but when you see something you want, you just go for it. You don’t hesitate, especially if that thing is priceless. You are priceless and I will do anything to have you.”
“We’re not even dating!” Vicky exclaimed.
“I know but we belong together.”
“I can’t say yes and you know why.”
Michael crouched before her and with her hand still in his, he gently stroked her thumb. “I love you.”
She shook her head. “No, you don’t.”
“You know I do. From the moment you walked into my life to this today, I have loved you. Now, I hold nothing back when I say I want you to be mine. I will give you time to think about it and I promise that I will be the perfect, clueless gentleman around here. No one will know what is going on unless you tell them.”
“So I don’t have to quit my job?”
He laughed and kissed her hand lightly. She pulled back a little but the tips of her fingers hooked in his. “Michael, this is wrong. I have…”
He leaned forward and kissed her. The right thing to do would have been to stop him but she didn’t. She let herself feel his tongue because she wanted to know if his kiss was genuine like Kole’s. It was not. She pushed him away and sprang up.
“What is wrong with you?” she asked, showing annoyance.
“I am sorry, Vicky. I just had to.”
“Now you’ve made this working environment very uncomfortable for me. From the proposal and then to the kiss.”
“I am sorry,” Michael said, “and please, don’t let our work relationship suffer.”
She said nothing further and walked out.
Seconds later, there was a knock on the door.
“Come in.” Michael settled into his chair behind the desk and wore on his office comportment.
Vicky walked in again and stood by the door. “Sir, I’d like to take the rest of the afternoon off.”
Michael leaned back. “Why?”
“I don’t feel so well.”
He scratched his beard with his little finger and nodded. “You may leave.”
“Thank you, sir.” She opened the door.
Vicky shut her eyes, her hand gripping the door handle.
“That kiss was the best thing I have done in my life. Think about my proposal.”
She hurried out and walked to her office. The door was wide open and she knew she didn’t leave it that way. She walked in and found her friend and colleague, Aisha, waiting for her.
“Babe, how far?” Aisha asked in her usual bubbly manner.
“I dey.” Vicky shut the door.
“So what did he want?”
“Oga, na. He said he wanted to see you. Was it work related or something else?”
Vicky walked to her desk and leaned on it, facing Aisha. “He kissed me,” she whispered. Aisha put her hand to her mouth and popped out her eyes.
“Iz a lie!”
“He asked me to marry him.”
Not able to restrain herself, Aisha shrieked.
“Are you serious?”
Vicky picked her laptop, handbag and umbrella.
“Be serious na. He really proposed?”
“Lower your voice, babe!”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to Kole’s office.”
At the mention of Kole, Aisha hissed. Vicky dropped her shoulders. “I still love him, babe.”
“But does he?”
“He does. He’s just going through a rough time.”
“With what? He recently was awarded a contract for heaven’s sake! Isn’t that supposed to make him happy? See, you already know how I feel about that guy…”
“He is that guy, now? He and Bello are best friends.”
“And that is the biggest reason why you shouldn’t trust him. Bello is a dog!”
“What? He’s my boyfriend. I know him like the back of my palm. He has spoilt Kole for you. Be there forming love for somebody that doesn’t send you. You will lose in the end.” Aisha propped up her huge breasts, straightened her shirt and got up. “Me, I’ve told you. Michael is a real man. Money, he’s there. Behavior, he’s there. Looks, he’s to die for! Tribe, he’s from your place. Did I say he’s hot?” She fanned herself and Vicky laughed. “Maturity, he’s there. Not like that your stupid Kole who would be throwing crass jokes and laughing like a horse on heat.”
“What? It’s true na. Kole…”
“Is a perfect gentleman. Crass jokes or not. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go and give my horse on heat a little surprise.”
“I pray you catch him red-handed in that his office.”
“You are not nice sometimes,” Vicky opened the door and they walked out of the office. As Aisha disappeared to her cubicle, Vicky entered the elevator.
“Hold it, please!” She looked up and saw Michael rushing to her. He squeezed through the sliding elevator door and stood behind her.
He hit the emergency button and turned her to face him. “I know you have somebody but I don’t care. I want to prove to you that I am the better man for you.”
“Let go of me, sir,” She pushed him away angrily and released the emergency button. Seconds later, the door opened.
“Have a nice day, Mr. Michael.”
“Okay, how about a ride home?”
Vicky signed out at the front desk and left the building.
“I’m here to see Kole. He works at engineering.”
An unfriendly girl with Goldie-like eyelashes and an oily face pushed a hardcover notebook at Vicky and settled back to her seat to gossip with her colleague. As Vicky signed in, she noted that the reception was unusually noisy. People who were supposed to be in their offices hung around aimlessly. Some were chatting, others were heading out of the building while the rest seemed to be waiting for something or someone. Her eyes scanned the human throng for Kole.
“Wait, did you say Kole?” The eyelashes girl stood up, leaning forward on her desk.
“Yes, Kole Abayomi.”
“Oh.” She looked at Vicky from top to bottom. Vicky was very used to this reaction. She knew her looks did nothing to flatter Kole’s, and as much as he always told her she was beautiful, she knew she was not as striking as he was. She was extremely fair in complexion, if that counted for something, but he was without question, every woman’s dream. “Kole is not in. He just went out and I don’t think he will be coming back again today, o.”
“Do you know where he went?”
“No. There was a fire incident earlier on, so everyone evacuated the building. All I know is I saw him leaving with Tina.” She turned to her colleague. “Shey na Tina Kole dey waka wit da’ time?”
“Eh, na Tina.”
Tina! How that girl had become a part of their lives still remained a mystery to Vicky. Kole had sworn there was nothing between them, but she knew there was more than he was letting on.
“Thank you,” Vicky smiled as the girl at the desk continued with her gossip. Vicky dialed Kole for the hundredth time. His phone was still switched off. She strolled out the building, hit the streets and took a cab home.
“Cee?” Vicky took off her shoes and shut the door. “Cecelia?” She called out to her neighbor who had practically moved in and had been living with her for the past week.
Cecelia emerged from the kitchen, cleaning her hands on a napkin.
“Cee, Michael proposed to me o.”
Cecilia pulled back and shook her head in a dazed expression. Unlike Aisha, she kept a cool exterior and a gentle manner.
“Are you serious?”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“Come, come, come,” Cecelia took her hand and led her to a couch and they snuggled in together. “Which one is ‘I don’t know what to do’?”
“I’m confused nau.”
“How? You still love Kole, don’t you?”
“But he hasn’t officially proposed to you.”
“If saying ‘shey you will marry me’ is a proposal, then he has, a million times. There is no ring on my finger yet and every time I bring up marriage, he brushes it aside and even gets angry when I press on the issue.” She lowered her tone into a whisper. “I don’t think he wants to get married.”
“Why will you say that?”
“He’s been distant in recent times and when last did you see him here? He picks me from work, drops me off outside and doesn’t come in. We don’t talk like we used to… I just don’t know.”
“You do realize that you’re just a lucky girl, don’t you? Two grown men want you.”
“Be serious, Cee. What do I do? Michael says he loves me and he’s willing to get married today-today if I say yes.”
“But what do you know about him other than work?”
Vicky made no reply.
“Pray about it.”
“You have come with this your prayer thing now. This is a serious situation.”
“That’s why I said you should pray and talk to Kole. Find out what is on his mind. Meanwhile, someone invited me for dinner on Sunday at that new hotel. I made you my plus one.”
“I don’t want to go.” Vicky pouted.
“Okay, I will dash you that my new dress.”
Vicky brightened up, “seriously?”
“I’ve not returned it yet, so you can have it. I don’t even know what made me buy a bigger size.”
“Awww…thanks, love.” She hugged her and stood up. “Is your door open? Lemme get the dress.”
Excited, she rushed off to Cecelia’s apartment.
Vicky pumped her lips, spreading her red gloss into even tones. She adjusted her strapless bra and considered her figure. Being very conservative, she didn’t like wearing clothes that exposed her shoulders and arms. But this was a gift from Cecelia and she couldn’t say no. Besides, at thirty-one, she wasn’t doing bad at all. Kole once told her red looked good on her. Too bad, he wasn’t going to see her. She shut her eyes, vanishing thoughts of him.
Cecilia walked in. “Wow, Vicky! Okay, I am officially jealous.”
“You look like a dream. Why is Kole misbehaving, na?”
“I wonder, oh. Useless boy.”
“Wait, lemme snap you,” Cecelia took a photo of her and immediately updated her Facebook status to ‘Dinner in a bit…’ “Posted on Facebook!”
“Ah! Facebook? What if Pastor sees it? He will start preaching about indecent dressing next Sunday.”
Cecelia hissed. “Abeg, joor.”
Vicky turned her hairbrush into a microphone, made a funny face and began mimicking the pastor in question. “Some sisters here will be so holy in church on Sunday morning. They will wear looong skirts and cover themselves from head to toe, but by evening you won’t recognize them. Do you know that red is the color of sin?”
Cecelia broke into laughter.
“Yes! Satan is red color with black horns and tail!”
Cecelia roared louder.
“My brothers and sisters, come and see this sister I’m talking about in that devil color, wearing ‘show me your front and back’. If she carry her hand up, we will see her armpit! Who wants to see ya armpit, Sister? Put ya hand down! I say put it down! If a man die and he is on his way to heaven and you raise that ya dirty armpit and the man see it, he will tumble and fall down to earth!”
Cecelia fell to the floor, holding her sides. “Abeg, Vicky, no kill me for here. I take God beg you. Please, stop.”
Vicky ended her performance and began brushing her hair while Cecelia got off the floor and peered into her phone. “Our ride is here!”
“Really? We even have a ride? Please, what is this dinner about sef? Who invited you?”
“Just a friend.” She smiled.
“Who, who ,who?”
“A friend. Let’s go.”
Vicky turned off the lights and they exited the house, coming out to the street outside their building.
“Na wa o. who is bringing limo to this type of area?” Vicky asked, staring at a sleek, black limousine parked a few feet away from them.
“I wonder o. I think the car missed road.”
They both laughed as Cecelia led Vicky towards the limousine.
“Where is our ride na?”
A man dressed in an exquisite black suit stepped out of the driver’s side of the limousine, came all the way to the passenger side that faced the ladies and opened the door to the luxury vehicle.
Vicky pulled her friend back. “They’re opening the door for us,” she whispered.
“Then we go in. You first.”
“No, you first.”
“Vicky,” Cecelia grit her teeth, “don’t disgrace me here. Enter.”
Vicky hesitated, still clinging to Cecelia who pushed her forward.
“Good evening,” the man in the suit greeted with a smile.
“Good evening,” Vicky smiled back and let herself into the limousine. The door immediately shut behind her. “Hey! Cee? Cecelia!” She looked out. Cecelia remained standing, waving at her. “Come in, na!”
“Victoria?” a familiar voice beside her gently called and Vicky turned.
“K-kole? What are you doing here?”
“Oh, I get it! Cecelia set me up. There was no dinner. And the dress…” She covered her eyes in a blush. “Are you for real?”
“You look so beautiful.”
Her smile was shy.
“It’s hard to believe you’re all mine,” Kole said.
The limousine went into motion and Vicky looked around her. “What’s this all about, Kole? It must have cost a lot and I know you also bought this dress…”
“Shhhh… You talk too much. Just enjoy it.”
Her phone rang and she reached for her purse, but he shook his head. “What if it’s an emergency?”
He shook his head again and moved closer. There was no attempt to touch or hold her. He simply gazed into her eyes.
“I’ve been very busy of late and I might have come off as distant, aloof or even mean but believe me, you were always on my mind, Victoria.”
For the past few nights, Vicky had sleepless hours pondering over a list of sentences to express her frustration at his behavior but at the moment, all she wanted to do was hold him.
“I am so sorry, baby. I still love you. I heard you swung by the office the other day?”
“I took Tina to see the doctor. She’s…pregnant. And no, it’s not mine.” He laughed when he saw Vicky’s expression. “You can relax. She was fired by our boss after she made a scene in his office on Friday. He’s the father of the kid, by the way.”
Vicky gasped. “It’s a lie!”
“You should have been there. Major drama. I always say it that office romances don’t work.”
“No, they don’t.”
“So, what’s with your boss kissing you, sef?”
Vicky opened her mouth and shut it.
“Aisha told me.”
“Aisha, Aisha, Aisha….”
“Were you going to tell me?”
She looked into his eyes and saw him trying to conceal his irritation. “It was a mistake,” she said honestly.
“What part? Him kissing you or you kissing him back. What part was a mistake?”
“Kole…” Her voice shook slightly as she pushed a strand of hair behind her ear, “I thought this was supposed to be a date, not ‘escort me to the station for questioning’.”
“Do I have to be repetitive and say I’m a jealous man? Your lips are mine. I hardly even get to kiss them again and you go and kiss Michael?”
“It was a mistake.” Vicky stressed.
“How is a kiss ever a mistake? You people’s lips accidently locked together when you were ten feet away from each other or when you were lost in his arms?”
“God!” she snapped. “Are you a ten year old?”
“Remind me that you’re older than me!”
“No, you remind me that I am. You know what? I will show you what ten feet away means!” Vicky moved to the seat that faced the one they were seated on.
“And he even proposed. Did you say no?”
“If you were doing your job as a man and loving me the way you were supposed to be loving me, would my keen-eyed boss notice I was lacking in the love department and make moves on me? If I was sure about our stance, wouldn’t I have told him straight away that I wouldn’t marry him?”
“Well, Madam Faithful, I heard you on radio the other day too. You called and asked some dumbass love doctor to give you advice on what to do, on whom to choose. What were your words again? ‘I don’t want to break my boyfriend’s heart but I also don’t want to lose my boss. Who do you think is the right guy for me?’”
“I needed help. I called an expert! Deal with it!”
“So, you’re not sure I’m the right guy for you? I’m now on the same pedestal with your boss, who by the way, just wants to get in your pants. I’m sure you know that. You’re not that stupid.”
“You have the nerve to judge me! Just look at you! Where have you been this past one week? I’m calling your phone and it’s switched off! Where have you been? Then you think you can get back on my good side with an uncooked apology? ‘Oh, sorry I might have been aloof, or distant or mean…’ spare me abeg. You abandoned me! You won’t visit me, you won’t take me out, you won’t kiss or touch me, you won’t even call me unless I call you and when I want to have a real conversation with you, all I hear is em, yes, mm, ehen, fine, good, thanks, no, yes, maybe, I don’t know, okay, kk, k …”
“Just stop. Stop.”
“No, I don’t want to stop, Kole! I want to tell you how much you have hurt me! You don’t just love a woman one minute and stop loving her the next without a quit notice. Nobody does like that!”
“I didn’t stop loving you, Victoria,” He lowered his head, “I didn’t stop loving you. I was swamped at work, my mom has been sick – you know that, and I…” He sighed. “To be honest, I have been having issues about the age difference because for the first time, I seriously decided to think of marriage. I needed to be alone to sort my feelings. You are one hell of a woman, and sometimes I feel like love is not a word enough to describe how I feel. Kut I know, for me, it is enough. To love someone from the inside is a cleansing experience. If it is pure, deep, unrestrained love, it will hose out all the unpleasantness and make you want to do right by everyone. That is how I feel every day, Victoria. You make me want to be a superior man, but you know I still have my ways…”
“I hate to give them up but with a love like ours so strong, I will do anything. That thought made me go crazy these past few weeks and though I have been going all the way for you in the past, I now want to go all the way forever.”
Kole slipped in beside her, dug into his pocket, took out a jewelry box and opened it. “Victoria, shey you will marry me?”
She laughed. “Wow! Two proposals in one week.”
“This is the only proposal that counts. Behave.”
“Yes, I will marry you, baby.” She melted into tears and threw her hands round him. “Yes baby! Yes, yes, yes!”
He slipped the ring on her finger and kissed her nose but she pulled back and drew him in long, deep kiss.
“Was Michael’s kiss this good?” Kole asked, his lips stuck between hers.
“Shut up and kiss me more.”
“You know you have to quit your job, don’t you?” he said.
“And dump Aisha.”
He gently bit on her lower lip. “And make love to me at least once before the wedding night.”
“In your dreams. Kiss.”
“I love you.”
“Mmm…I love you too. Oya kiss me nau.”