Akudo was seething, but you could not tell with the way she plastered the unnaturally wide smile on her face.
Her desk phone rang and she glanced at it, thanking the heavens for the easy excuse.
It was an external number, but the VP could not see that from where he stood.
She got in character and started to act a bit jittery, glancing back at the phone as it rang.
He was senior management, so everyone knew to drop all else when summoned by them. However, this was a multinational organisation and most members of senior management always liked to appear laid back and approachable, and she was going to use that to her advantage.
“You need to answer that?” He asked, reluctantly.
“Actually I do sir. I’ve been expecting that call but I did not want to be rude.” She said, trying really hard to sound regretful.
“Rude? No, not at all. I just merely came to check on you. You are free to kick me out at anytime.” He smiled, his hand sliding down her arm.
The gesture made her skin crawl, but she tried not to show it.
“Thank you for understanding sir.” She said quickly, widening the smile as she quickly reached across her desk for the phone.
“Hello? Yes. Sure. Let me open the file.”
Akudo quickly sat at her desk and busied herself on her computer. When she was certain the VP was out of earshot, she took a deep breath and removed her hand from her mouse.
“Babe, thank you..” She breathed, slouching on her chair.
“So who was it this time?” Ronke said from the other end of the receiver. “Body odour Lanre from Accounting? Or baboon breath John from HR?”
“I swear, I tell you too much.” Akudo chuckled. “If IT monitors our calls, you will be the death of me on this job.”
“Abegii, if anything, we have been supplying them with hot gist. Those IT guys are bored out of their minds.”
Akudo let out a groan as she pressed a cold bottle of water against her jaw.
“Why are you moaning? And in the office no less?” Ronke asked in mock horror.
“Why do you have to make everything sexual?” Akudo whispered into the receiver, then brought her volume back up to add “my jaw aches from all that fake smiling, I am relieving it with cold water.”
“Pele. You still haven’t told me who it was.”
“VP oh.” Akudo sighed.
“The fine one?” Ronke asked, her tone filled with excitement.
“The very married one.” Akudo responded, frowning at the phone.
“You know I draw the line at married men, but I am well within my rights to appreciate the work of the lord…from a distance of course.”
Akudo rolled her eyes.
“So what did he do this time? Has he actually propositioned you?
Akudo stomach turned at the mere thought of that.
“No, and I hope he never does. I actually like this job. It would be a shame to walk away from it because of a randy old man.”
“Babe, I have told you that there are ways to play this game. Quitting your job should only be an absolute last resort. We are in a recession oh, jobs are hard to come by.”
“I don’t have patience for games abeg. Sometimes when you try to play the game, you end up trapped.”
“Not if you know what you are doing, but nevermind that. If he was not saying anything suggestive, then why were you so grateful for my call?” Ronke asked, puzzled.
“It’s the touching thing. I can’t stand it. Is this what single ladies go through in the workplace? It’s bad enough when they look at you like you are a piece of meat, but why touch? When you give them a frontal hug, they pull you in close; when you give them a side hug, they squeeze then conveniently leave their hands on your shoulders or waist; when you opt for a handshake, they hold onto your hand; when you decide to just wave and pass, they will pull you into a long conversation so that at some point in the conversation, they will have cause to touch you or graze some part of your body. Kilode?!”
“It’s not funny Ronke.” Akudo said, pouting a little.
“Sorry. I don’t know if you have noticed but when you get upset, you speak Yoruba.”
Akudo rolled her eyes. “Are you not the one that said I speak Igbo when I am upset?”
“You speak Yoruba when you are annoyed, you speak Igbo when you are angry, and you speak pristine English when you are livid.”
Akudo could not help but smile. The girl knew her so well. As much as she hated to admit it, it was true. She had learnt English first. She wished it had been Igbo, but it was English and as a result, it was her default language when she was royally pissed.
“The oku obinrin should sha leave me alone.” Akudo said finally.
Ronke let out a loud laugh. “How is it that you know little Yoruba but you know the bad stuff?”
Akudo just smiled.
“Believe it or not, you are not even getting the full brunt of it.” Ronke said matter-of-factly.
“How?” Akudo asked, lifting an eyebrow as though Ronke could see it.
“You were married once; that ‘respect’ accorded married women is still looming over your head a bit. The downside to that is that the people who will approach you are likely people looking to have fun or use you as a side chic because they believe you are vulnerable and in need of a man.”
Akudo rolled her eyes at that thought. It was so degrading.
“The upside,” Ronke continued, “ is that it limits the number of people, trust me. Imagine receiving advances from married AND single men – especially single men you are not interested in. The married men will try to entice, threaten or blackmail you, and the single ones will try to do the same. In fact, they even try to be forceful and resort to insults if you turn down their advances. It’s a lose-lose situation I tell you.”
Akudo sighed. She had never imagined the office to be such a volatile place for unmarried women. She especially felt sad for her friend. Here she was, thinking the beautiful and fun-loving Ronke was enjoying advances of a variety of men. She never stopped to think that it was not always favourable.
“This is why I tell you that I don’t judge women who have affairs with married men.”
Akudo stiffened. “Oh come on, let’s not go there.”
“Calm down, I did not say I agree with it or that I will ever do it. I am just saying I understand the pressure.”
“Aside from the fact that not all situations are pressure-related, there is always another option.” Akudo said in a firm tone.
“AK, let’s not argue about this. We are still on for this weekend right?”
“Was that for the side chic matter or this weekend?” Ronke asked, unfazed.
“See, if I had lied to you that it was a girls-only hangout, and then the guys showed up out of nowhere, you would have figured it out and gotten angry with me so I opted for the truth.”
Akudo groaned again.
“I know you think I am setting you up but I am not. I just want you to have fun.” Ronke pleaded.
“Ronke.” Akudo said, in a tone that showed she did not believe her best friend.
“Okay, fine. I told Femi that I wanted to take you to dinner to celebrate and I did not want it to be just the two of us. I knew you would hate being a third wheel just as much as you hate being set up so I asked him to bring a friend.”
“Celebrate what exactly?” Akudo asked absentmindedly as she racked her brain for a good excuse to get out of it.
“That was six months ago!”
“He doesn’t need to know that.”
“Look babe, I know you are not ready for the dating scene, and I am not trying to force you; but I needed your name to be sure he would show. By the time I am done charming him with all of this hotness, I won’t need to bother you again. You will be free to return to your glorious solitude.”
Akudo rolled her eyes.
“I know you just rolled your eyes, but it’s okay as long as you say you’ll come.”
“I really really don’t feel like making conversation with relative strangers.” Akudo whined.
“Please AK. I checked out Femi’s profile on the web and from everything I see, I think he will be perfect for me. Help your friend out naaau. Abi do you want me to be single forever?”
Akudo could picture Ronke pouting and batting her eyelids.
“That was low.”
“I know, but I am desperate. Just be my wing-woman for one night. Pleeeeeease?”
“Fine!” Akudo said, pinching the bridge of her nose.
She was certain she was going to regret this decision.
“I still think you should have worn the bodycon dress.” Ronke said, frowning at Akudo’s ensemble.
“You are the one trying to land a man not me. Besides, that dress hides nothing.”
“That’s the point.”
“Well I like things hidden thank you very much.” Akudo retorted.
“Prude!” Ronke said, rolling her eyes.
“Exhibitionist!” Akudo retorted.
“Whatever! You didn’t have to sha almost look like a nun.”
“Ronke, the blouse is made of lace.”
“But it’s lined.”
“There is no way in hell I am going to wear only a bra under sheer lace. Besides, my trousers are fitted.”
“It’s skinny jeans.”
“Still jeans. This is an upscale restaurant. I’m sure there is a ‘no jeans’ sign somewhere that we just can’t see.”
“My outfit is fine Ronke. I may be more comfortable in loose-fit clothing, but I do know how to dress. When you do tight bottoms, you should do free tops.”
“First of all, I think that was a phrase coined by people with bulging stomachs; second, I don’t think they meant this free.” Ronke scolded, grabbing the ends of Akudo’s blouse and flapping with her fingers.
“I’m sure you think that by insisting we come with your car, I have no choice but to go home with you; but taxi never finish for Lagos. I can turn around and go home right now.” Akudo threatened.
“Calm down nau. Someone cannot play with you?” Ronke said, relenting.
Akudo rolled her eyes. “I even wore make-up and let my hair down, and you are complaining.”
“Oya don’t vex. Fine geh.” Ronke beamed, tickling her friend on the chin.
They walked into the restaurant.
Ronke flashed the attendant her biggest smile as she requested a table for four.
Akudo looked around the restaurant, admiring the decor.
Suddenly, the hairs on her arm stood straight. It usually happened when she felt like someone was staring at her.
She flipped her braids away from her face as she scanned the room slowly until she saw him.
Femi Odebiyi was staring right at her and smiling.
A smile that made her feel undressed.
She smiled back, fighting the urge to grab a menu from the nearest waiter and fan herself. The room had suddenly gone warm.
She calmly tapped Ronke and gestured to where Femi sat.
She heard Ronke’s breath catch in her throat and could not blame her. The man was, as Ronke had put it, a work of art. How had she not noticed that night they ran into each other?
He was already standing in readiness to greet them. By the time they made it to the table, he was at his full height, and Akudo heard Ronke let out a quiet sigh.
She smiled inwardly. Ronke had always had a thing for tall men.
“Olufemi Gabriel Odebiyi.” Akudo let out, coming to a stop in front of him.
Femi chuckled, then pulled her in for a hug.
The hug lingered a little, but not long enough to make Akudo uncomfortable.
“My mother is the only one that calls me by my full name, and only when I am in trouble.” He said, pulling away. “So, Akudo Nwodo, am I in trouble?”
His smile was absolutely electrifying.
“That depends on how tonight goes.” Akudo smiled, narrowing her eyes in jest. “Anyway,” she added, stepping aside. “I believe you have sort of met my friend, Ronke?”
“Indeed I have, but not in the flesh.” Femi said, extending a hand to Ronke. “I see you are as beautiful as your voice.”
“Thank you.” Ronke said, pretending to be flustered.
Akudo tried not to roll her eyes.
Ronke had gone all out. She was wearing one of her most alluring wigs. It had soft curls that framed her face quite beautifully.
She was wearing a very fitted asymmetrical bodycon dress in a soft lilac that complimented her skin tone. Even though she revealed neither cleavage nor thighs, it was so tight that it left almost nothing to the imagination.
Her shoes were a pair of nude statement heels with red bottoms.
In fact, the only thing understated about her tonight was her makeup – which surprised and impressed Akudo because it was Ronke’s deliberate, albeit difficult, attempt at trying not to overdo it.
There was absolutely nothing modest about the “thank you” Ronke said to Femi.
Ibironke Akande was fully aware of how stunning she looked tonight.