“I’ll just have water.” He said to the waitress, returning her overemphasized smile with a curt one.
She tried to take the menu but he placed a hand on it. “My date will soon arrive.”
She tried to mask her disappointment with an even wider smile, but he had already seen it.
He smiled to himself as she walked away. He was aware that he was a little easy on the eyes, but he had not always benefited from that type of attention. If anything, it had brought him more trouble than he needed.
By the time the waitress returned with the bottle of water, he had gone from being intrigued at the idea of a blind date, to wondering what the hell he was thinking. It was not that he needed help in that department, but his friends Kachi and Bose were so sure this lady was perfect for him that curiosity had got the best of him.
The fact that she was open to it made her even more intriguing. She had insisted on meeting him at a location of his choosing rather than him picking her up. That way, if it all went sour, she could drive herself home or somewhere more interesting.
How could he say “no” to that?
He glanced at his watch, and then towards the entrance. She had just walked in, and was scanning the room. She smiled at him as their eyes met, and made her way over.
She wore very little makeup, and a dress that showed her curves but still left a lot to the imagination. He suspected it was intentional, and he was glad for it.
It was nice, for a change, to not have to rein in extra willpower in order to keep his eyes above her neckline.
She had suggested that their mutual friends show each of them the other person’s picture so they knew exactly who they were looking out for. It was not entirely a blind date per se, but neither of them wanted to look lost in a fancy restaurant.
He got up and greeted her with a kiss to one cheek, before pulling out her chair.
“I hope it wasn’t hard for you to find this place.” He said, returning to his seat.
“Not at all. It’s not my first time here. Good choice by the way.” She winked.
He knew it was a good choice. Not just because the ambiance was great and the food was even better, but because the place was known to only a few of the Lagos elite. He was surprised that she actually knew of it.
It was either she got courted by wealthy men a lot, was the child of a wealthy man, or was in the know by virtue of her own rights. He did not really care which it was, and he definitely was not going to ask. That was the kind of question that got a drink thrown in your face and well, his blazer was expensive.
One thing was certain though: his interest was piqued.
“Introductions then?” She asked with a small smile.
“Of course!” he said. “Pardon my manners.”
“Ifeamaka, born and bred in Lagos, techie by day, couch potatoe by night and I’m almost certain I was a ballerina in my past life.” She said with a grin, extending a hand.
“Oh wow.” He chuckled in surprise, taking her hand. He had not expected that.
“Well,” he began, fumbling for the words. “Ikenna, born and bred in Anambra – came to Lagos for work and never left, Audit professional by day and night – sorry to disappoint, and I don’t believe in past lives.”
As soon as the words left his lips, Ikenna regretted it. He was already coming across as stiff and the date had not even started.
“We’ll see about that. I might make a believer out of you yet.” She said without missing a beat, mischief dancing in her eyes.
He let out a small smile, grateful that her countenance had not changed.
“I have a hard time believing you have no guilty pleasures though.” She started. “Everyone does.”
“Perhaps. I don’t know what mine is though.” He shrugged, taking a swig of his water.
“What do you do when you are on leave, or holiday or just need a break and need to tune out the world?” She asked.
If he was not visiting relatives, he was trying to get ahead on work or finally spending time on personal projects. He did not quite know how to answer the question without sounding dull.
He opened his mouth to speak but Ifeamaka spoke instead.
“If this evening goes well enough and we decide to see each other again, I am making a note to help you uncover a guilty pleasure.” Ifeamaka said, whipping out her phone and typing into it. “How you have managed to retain your mental state without one is beyond me.”
Ikenna smiled again. He liked her.
“No food sir?” The waitress asked, interrupting them.
They made their orders.
As soon as the waitress was out of earshot, Ifeamaka leaned in. “I think the waitress has a crush on you.”
“She probably acts that way with all her customers.” Ikenna said, shooing the idea away a little too quickly.
“I doubt it. She looked at you even when she was speaking to me, and she was really out to impress. At some point, I wanted to tell her there was only one ‘r’ in ‘sir’.”
Ikenna’s eyes widened in amusement. “You noticed that too?”
Ifeamaka only giggled in response.
They spoke about a lot of things without divulging too much.
Ikenna was careful not to appear too serious, but Ifeamaka did not seem to care. In fact, she seemed just as happy to discuss the state of the nation’s economy as she was to discuss celebrity gossip.
“So tell me,” she began, “what foods do you not like?”
“I’m not very picky actually but some things just don’t make sense to me. For instance, crabs.”
“What? Crabs are delicious!” She said, genuinely surprised.
“Probably; but it’s just too much work. Do you know some restaurants give you a hammer? Why should eating food involve a hammer?” He asked incredulously.
Head tilted back, no inhibitions, just straight-from-the-belly laughter.
He enjoyed watching it.
“Okay, your turn”. He said, after he realized he had been staring at her a little too long.
She wiped a lone tear with her napkin. “You should have seen your face. How can you dislike something you haven’t even tried?”
Ikenna shrugged in response.
“Anyway,” she chuckled, “onions.”
Onions what?” He asked.
She merely looked at him until it hit him.
“No way! You cannot be a Nigerian and not like onions. Isn’t EVERYTHING cooked with it?”
“Oh I like onions just fine; I just don’t understand why it has to be visible.” she smiled, scooping a forkful of rice into her mouth.
“Aaah, so you are one of those?”
“One of what?”
“Those that shred their onions so tiny it pretty much disintegrates in the pot.”
“Shred ke? Brother, I blend. We have to puree that sucker before it makes it into the pot.”
This time it was Ikenna who laughed.
It had been a while since he did.
The waitress returned to take the plates and once again, gave more attention to Ikenna.
After the waitress was gone, he spoke before Ifeamaka had a chance to. “It’s probably just a ruse to get a fat tip.”
“Oh come on. She might actually REALLY like you.” She teased.
“She doesn’t even know me.”
“You have never heard of love at first sight?”
He only gave her a look.
“Let me guess, you are one of those that thinks everyone has an ulterior motive?” She asked, watching him intently.
“Don’t we all?” He began. “Even seemingly good people show their true colours when they get what they want.”
She blinked in surprise, then stared down at her drink.
She stirred the drink idly with a straw for some seconds.
When she finally spoke, a little bit of the humour was missing from her tone. “Have you always been this cynical?”
“Not always. I am the youngest of two children. My mother died giving birth to me, and my father blamed me for it. The physical abuse I could deal with, the psychological however… Anyway, I couldn’t get away from him fast enough. As soon as I was done with school, I moved to Lagos for work and never looked back. About 5 years later, he reached out, and I thought he wanted to repair our relationship. Thinking back now, I feel so stupid for getting my hopes up. By the fifth time he asked me for money, the scales had finally fallen from my eyes. What’s worse, when I refused to give him the amount he requested, he referred to me as the demon child that killed his wife and added that he should have killed me when he had the chance. Relatives, friends and even women I have met have not been much different so yes, I am a bit of a cynic and now you know why.”
That’s what he wanted to say.
Instead, he smiled and said “so I’ve been told”.
Ikenna was not the kind to let people in so easily, but he had to admit that she was very easy to talk to.
He especially liked that she was quick-witted. He had always found that attractive in a woman.
Her strong command of the English language was definitely a plus. She used the word “cynical” correctly; not like a lot of people he knew who thought it was a synonym for “sarcastic”.
His wall was up, as it usually was. However, he readied a sledgehammer because he had a suspicion that by the end of the night, he would be knocking down a portion of it.