Akudo removed the phone from her ears, stared at it like she was seeing something foreign, shook her head as though to clear the fuzziness, then put the phone back to her ears.
“Friend?!” Akudo said in disbelief. Not really a question, more like an affirmation that she had heard right.
“Yes, friend.” Her mother maintained.
She could not believe this.
The night before, Akudo felt like she was getting cross-eyed from all the reading and reviewing she had been doing for her exam. She knew she was as prepared as she was ever going to be, but she could not shake the feeling that she should study some more, perhaps review more past questions – just to make sure she was fully prepared.
When she had read the same line twice without the words sinking in, she accepted that she needed to stop. She was too wound up to sleep, and she needed good sleep if she was going to be well-rested for her exam the next day.
She was still trying to decide between Reality TV and one of the novels she had been meaning to read, when a message came into her phone from her sister Ifunanya.
Ifunanya wanted to know if Akudo had spoken with their mother yet.
Akudo sighed, and replied with a “Not yet; maybe after the exam.”
Akudo leaned back on her couch and mulled over the last conversation she had with her sister.
She had finally got around to speaking with her about whatever it was she was feeling for Timeyin.
She had expected Ifunanya to be pushy and insistent on Akudo opening her heart to the possibility of loving again, but she had not been. It surprised Akudo so much that she decided to open up to her sister about why she was not going to consider it.
“You know, it may not be as bad as you think. I mean, whatever you decide, I respect your decision but I think you are being too hard on yourself.” Ifunanya had said.
Akudo had disagreed with her. In a final bid to drive home her point, Akudo made reference to their mother, and the life she chose after their father died.
“Maybe you should try to talk to Mummy about it.” Ifunanya suggested. “Perhaps you are assuming she chose this life. Have an open discussion with her and see. Although, I have a sneaky suspicion she will just say something ridiculous like ‘as a widow you have no business thinking of men, you need to face your children’ but she is the only widow I can think of that you can have this kind of conversation with without feeling vulnerable or judged.”
She had a point. Even though Akudo was certain their mother would echo her sentiments on the matter, she figured it could not hurt to talk to her.
Akudo knew she did not want a relationship. Remarrying was out of the question. She also knew that a good chunk of the reason she was not considering either was because she felt it a taboo of some sort – no thanks to the society she lived in. It was not illegal or against any laws, but many openly discouraged it. A man needed a woman of course; otherwise, how could he cope with raising children? If he did not take a wife shortly after he was widowed, one was more or less thrust on him. It took a certain type of man to put his foot down, and either do it in his own time or go the journey alone. The woman, however, was expected to forge ahead and focus on her children. It was a blatant double-standard, one that Akudo despised; and were Edozie still alive, she would gladly tell any widows she encountered to follow their heart and love again. Now that she found herself in this position, she understood why some women chose to remain so.
Nonetheless, perhaps if she listened to the words of a widow who had walked this path, maybe it would give her perspective.
She had called her mother almost immediately, and after the usual pleasantries, asked her if she ever considered remarrying.
As Akudo expected, her mother said “no” without a moment’s hesitation.
She gave reasons that included cultural limitations. Like how the customs in her late husband’s hometown demanded that if a woman were to remarry outside of the late husband’s family, her children had to give up their rights to any inherited land/property as those would be seen as being transferred to the control of the new husband.
Another custom that she could not bear to live with was the fact that remarrying meant that her husband’s relatives had the right to take her children from her at any time. Actually, this could happen regardless of if she remarried or not. After all, the culture states that even though the woman birthed the children, the children belong to the man and his family. Though it was not commonplace for her husband’s people to take children away from widowed mothers, she knew one or two of her late husband’s kinsmen who would have likely made a scapegoat out of her if she had remarried. They would have convinced the entire kindred that they could not entrust ‘their children’ to the care of the stranger that their late brother’s wife had married.
Patricia Nwodo was headstrong, and had a few key members of her late husband’s family on her side, so Akudo knew these scenarios were unlikely; but she understood her mother’s need to err on the side of caution.
Her mother also mentioned that she was so preoccupied with raising Akudo and her siblings, that romance never crossed her mind. Akudo understood, and could relate to this reason.
Finally, her mother mentioned that remarrying would have been akin to replacing her father; and her father was irreplaceable.
Akudo could also relate to that.
As Akudo expected, the conversation made her resolve firm.
She had no fear of threats from her in-laws because aside from the fact that the ones that mattered were kind to her, all the property that she cared about was already in her name. Nonetheless, the conversation showed her that she was on the right track, and she had made her decision for the right reasons.
When she bade her mother goodnight, it was with a sense of accomplishment.
She was too tired to give Ifunanya a call back, but texted her to know the conversation went just as she thought it would.
Apparently, she spoke too soon.
Akudo’s jaw was still hanging loose from her mother’s utterances.
Somewhere at the back of her mind, she reminded herself that it was time to take a shower and head to her exam, but she was too stunned to move.
She had been trying to get a few more reviews in before getting ready to head to her exam venue when she noticed her phone ringing.
Her mother had called to pray for her with regards to her exams, but before she hung up, she let Akudo know that she did have one regret.
“Even though I was never planning to remarry, I could have at least had a friend. Being a widow can be very lonely. It was hard especially when you children started leaving the house one by one.”
Akudo’s mother went on to say other things but Akudo hardly heard any of it.
To anybody else, it would have seemed like her mother was talking about a female friend, maybe even a male platonic friend; but she knew her mother. When her mother used ‘friend’ to describe the opposite sex, it was anything but.
Like the time she told Ifunanya that she better warn that ‘friend’ of hers not to come around the house anymore, or the time she introduced Edozie, who had come to ask for Akudo’s hand in marriage, as her daughter’s ‘friend’ to her friends.
Her mother treated the terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” as if they were lewd, and only used them when she meant to insult or be condescending. Like the time she said with disgust that her adulterous neighbour, Mrs. Olia, had many boyfriends coming and going from her home when her husband was not around.
Her mother had not only said she wished she had a ‘friend’, but she wished she had one because she got lonely. This meant her mother was pretty much referring to a ‘friends with benefits’ situation. A steady booty call. In Ronke’s words, ‘a shoulder to lean on and a groin to grind on.’
Akudo closed her eyes tight and shook her head.
The thought of her mother having casual sex almost sent her breakfast back up her throat.
Hell the thought of her mother having sex, period!
“Friend?” Akudo repeated.
“Why are you shocked?” Her mother asked, sounding annoyed.
“Em…I don’t know…I just-” Akudo stammered.
“Look, being a widow is difficult. There are so many challenges, and I am sure you have experienced some. Women are built to be strong but sometimes it is nice to have somebody to talk to when the strength leaves you from time to time.”
Akudo knew what she meant, she knew exactly what she meant; but said nothing.
“So I see nothing wrong with having a friend. I wish I had one, but madu a kago. Besides, I have my grandchildren to keep me company now.” Her mum finished.
That made Akudo sad.
Akudo wanted to tell her mother that she was not old; certainly not too old to have a companion if she so desired, but the words would not come out. How could they? She would be a complete hypocrite if she uttered them. She already felt like one for even thinking them.
“By the way, why were you asking? O nwe…” Her mother began, after a moment.
“Ah! Mummy, I need to rush so I am not late for my exam oooh.” Akudo blurted.
Akudo knew where that line of questioning was headed, and she was not going to let her mother finish that sentence. She had never been very good at lying. She knew that once the question was asked, she would have to answer it; and she did not want to.
The last thing she needed was her mother nagging her about a man she was attracted to that was not a potential love interest.
Akudo tapped her thighs impatiently as she waited for her score to load on the screen. The exam had gone well. There were only a few questions she was unsure of, but her confidence wavered because this exam used the weighted scoring method. As far as she was concerned, weighted exams were spawn of the devil. Whoever decided to calculate exam scores in this manner deserved to flogged.
Thankfully, this was not one of those exams where you had to wait two weeks or more for the results. It was a computer-based test, and the questions were multiple choice so you were scored immediately by the computer and your unofficial scores displayed on the screen. The official results would be sent by mail.
Why was the screen taking so long to load?
She prayed there was no issue with the internet. She would scream if the proctor suddenly said ‘network is down.’
She might even punch him.
She closed her eyes. You need a 300 or higher to pass. You need a 300 or higher to pass. She chanted to herself.
Her company would give her one more chance to pass the exam before making her pay for it, but she did not like to fail; she never had. With all she had been through to study for this exam, she had to pass.
She opened one eye and peeped at the screen.
A “340” in big, bold, black letters was printed in the middle of the screen.
She open the second eye and let out a scream.
The proctor, who clearly was no stranger to this type of behaviour, simply smiled and said “Congratulations madam.”
She thanked him. She almost hugged him but got back to her senses in time.
She asked for a printed copy, and he obliged her.
She more or less ran to her car, pulled out her phone and searched for Timeyin’s name.
She had almost dialed his number, then stopped.
This news was better delivered in person.
He was the reason she was able to take this exam, and had been instrumental to her passing it. She was not going to give him the good news by phone.
She opened her WhatsApp application.
Akudo read through the chat again and realised that Timeyin was probably nervous and thinking that she had failed.
That would make the news even better.
He responded with his address. She was familiar with the neighborhood.
She glanced at her backseat to confirm that his birthday gift was still there, then turned on her ignition and drove.
As Akudo drove, she smiled as she thought of the way Timeyin had kept her focused and disciplined throughout her study period. She especially remembered how he had spent the past Saturday and Sunday showing her boys a good time. Both days they had come back and entertained her with stories from the day’s adventure. They were incredibly happy, and wonderfully tired both nights; and both nights she felt bad for giving Timeyin the impression that she did not think they were safe with him.
Of course she knew they were.
Since she got to know Timeyin, she never got any negative or dangerous vibes from him. What she struggled with was whether or not it was irresponsible for her to expose her sons to him; but she did not know how to say that.
Technically, it should not have been a real concern because he was neither a love interest, nor had he shown express interest in dating her. He was essentially a friend helping out a friend, but she still felt like she had to be careful with male presence around her sons. This was one of those few times she wished she had someone she could talk to about these kinds of matters.
She was glad he had thought of an alternate solution she could live with. Now that she had passed her exams, she could not imagine how she would have done it otherwise.
She parked her car outside the gate of the building that held the same address as the message he sent.
She checked her face in the mirror. Since he suspected she may have failed the test, she was going to have a little fun with him.
There were telltale signs of laughter at the corners of her mouth, so she lingered a little longer in the car until she was able to get her face to behave.
She tossed his gift inside her handbag, grateful that she carried a bag big enough to fit it, then got out of the car.
She was clearing her throat to ask the gate man for Timeyin’s flat when she saw him approaching the gate, a cautious smile on his face.
He let her in, and gave her a light hug.
“Happy birthday.” She said, her tone sombre.
“Thanks. You okay?” He asked, the concern in his tone almost making her break character.
“Can we talk inside?” She asked, mentally patting herself on the back for the stellar performance.
“Sure.” Timeyin replied, his voice an audible whisper as he closed the gate behind her and guided her to his flat.
Once they were in, Akudo’s eyes lit up at his decor. From the outside, the building looked regular, but on the inside it felt like she had stepped into a different place. It was easy to guess the flat belonged to a man, but it was very tasteful. There was an ornate vase at the centre of his dining table, and beautiful art decorated every wall without making it look ‘too much.’
Akudo was willing to bet that a woman’s touch went into the decor, but at the moment, she had to get back into character.
“Nice place.” She said simply, then came to a halt in the centre of the living room.
“Thanks. Please sit.” He offered.
She did not. Instead she rummaged in her bag and handed him the printed piece of paper.
He paused before taking the folded piece of paper from her.
He opened it slowly and sighed.
“So what is a pass mark?” He asked, his eyes coming to rest on hers; ready to soothe her.
“300.” She said, still in a sad voice.
Timeyin’s eyes had started to go soft in a bid to console her when he suddenly jerked his eyes back down to the sheet of paper.
When he lifted his eyes back up in readiness to inform her that the score he was looking at was higher than three hundred, Akudo was grinning at him.
“You passed!” He exclaimed. A mixture of mild annoyance at Akudo’s tricks, and pure happiness shone in his eyes.
“I did!” Akudo screamed in glee as she rushed to him and threw her arms around him.
“Good job grasshopper!” He said, giving her a high-five when they pulled apart.
“Why thank you sensei!” She smiled, touching her palms together as though in prayer and bowing low.
“That’s not even the best part.” She added. “That’s 340 out of 350!”
“What?” Timeyin said, utterly impressed.
“You heard me!” Akudo shrieked. “You have no idea how happy I am.” She did something that could be called a victory dance, and when she brought her eyes back to Timeyin, he was staring at her, the aftermaths of laughter tugging at the corners of his lips.
She blew out a breath.
“Thank you so much Timeyin. I don’t know how I would have done any of this, accomplished any of it without your help. Thank you.” She said gratefully.
“Hey, you did it all yourself; the effort was all you.” He said.
As usual, he was not being shy or patronising; just factual.
Akudo wondered for the umpteenth time why that was such a turn-on for her.
As he spoke, she slowly descended from the euphoria she was feeling moments before into something different.
She noticed for the first time that he was only wearing a singlet and sweatpants. The adrenaline from the high of passing her exam, and her struggle to stay in character had made her oblivious to that fact.
Now, it was all she noticed.
The way the white of his singlet complemented his dark caramel skin.
The way the muscles in his beautiful, long, toned arms seemed to ripple on their own.
The way the singlet fit him like a glove, giving away a flat stomach that was likely earned and not a gift from genetics.
Her gaze moved up to his neck, and then his face.
Lord did he have a beautiful face. Perfectly chiseled and oval.
His eyes. How had she never noticed them? They were a deep brown, not an uncommon colour, but the shape; she could not quite describe it but she felt herself getting lost within them.
She snapped at herself mentally.
What was wrong with her?
“Young lady, I think you just got my birthday off to a great start. Let’s celebrate.” Timeyin said, walking past her.
Akudo was still getting her wits about her when he returned with two wine glasses.
She raised her hand to stop him from opening the wine bottle.
“I can’t drink when I intend to drive remember?” She said, sending him an apologetic look.
“Ah yes, that’s true. Well it’s a good thing I have Malt. Will that work?” He asked.
“Yes, Malt will do.” She smiled.
He re-emerged with two bottles of Malt.
“Why aren’t you having wine?” She asked, perplexed.
“Where’s the fun in that? I won’t enjoy it if you can’t have it with me.” He said simply, then uncorked both their bottles with an opener that seemed to materialise out of nowhere.
“Would you like a glass?” He asked.
“No thanks. I am good with the bottle.” She said.
He gestured for her to take a seat on the sectional. He sat beside her, turned his torso towards her, lifted his bottle and said “to accomplishing goals and dreams, and to you for killing that exam!”
“Hear hear!” Akudo said smiling and clinking her bottle with his.
She took a swig of her drink as she took in his decor once more.
She was about to tell him how lovely his place looked when he called her name.
She looked at him in response.
“I am very proud of you. I know it is not easy being a mother and trying to build a career at the same time. Truth be told, I am in awe of you; and I know that you were meant for great things. Greater than your wildest imaginations. You just have to keep believing in yourself.”
As she listened to him, the smile that danced on Akudo’s face slowly faded.
She looked downwards.
Timeyin would likely never know how much those words meant to her. She was overcome with an array of emotions: joy, relief, a sense of vindication. The back of her eyes began to tingle.
When she looked back up at him, with a promise to keep the tears at bay; her breath caught at what she saw in his eyes. Admiration, pride and something else she could not quite place.
She was neither sure when it happened or how it happened, but she suddenly leaned forward, her eyes going shut, and pressed her lips to his.
She opened her eyes after she pulled away. The surprised expression on Timeyin’s face jarred her back to reality.
She abruptly stood up.
Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. She screamed in her head over and over again.
What had she done?
“I’m sorry. I…I…” Her mind was in shambles. Forming words had become difficult.
“It’s okay.” Timeyin said, getting to his feet as well.
“It’s not. I shouldn’t have. Oh God.” She said, touching her right palm to her forehead as she took a few steps away from him.
“Hey, listen to me.” He said, closing the gap between them in a few steps and gripping her arms gently. “Seriously, it’s okay. I’m not upset, or offended.”
She ventured a glance in his eyes and noticed that he saw the full brunt of her mortification, and was trying to make her feel better.
That made it worse.
What had come over her? A little more than twelve hours ago, she had confirmed that her decision to uncomplicate her life with romance was for the best, and within twenty four hours of that, she was planting a kiss on a man?
A handsome, kind, wonderful man that had better stopped touching her at the moment.
Akudo pulled away from his grip and turned her back to him.
Crap! What do I do now?
She heard him call out to her. He was trying to convince her to sit so they could talk about something else and finish their drinks but how could she?
There was no way they could act normal. Not after that.
She flashed back to the conversation she had with her mother that morning.
Her mother was not lying. Widowhood could be quite lonely, but she thought she had made her peace with that. Apparently not, if her body was doing things on its own without her consent.
Akudo steadied her breath. Freaking out was doing her no good. She had to think of how to move past this point.
Maybe Ifunanya had a point and she was being too hard on herself, and maybe her mother was onto something with this ‘friend’ thing. Since Timeyin had not expressed interest in dating her, but was compatible with her, perhaps…
She shook her head. Was she really considering this?
“Akudo?” Timeyin called to her softly.
She closed her eyes.
She had been a good girl all her life. She had married the third man she ever dated and he had been the first and only man she had ever slept with. She was faithful during her marriage, and had been a decent human being since her husband’s death. She still had blood coursing through her veins, and a lot of years left in her. She did not deserve to be relegated to an existence devoid of sex for the rest of her life, right?
Timeyin reached forward and tapped her gently on her shoulder.
She opened her eyes and let out a breath.
She had crossed the line, there was no going back now. She just had to go for it.
She spun around and faced him.
“Timeyin.” She cleared her throat.
“Hey, it’s no big-”
“I have a proposition for you.” She blurted out, cutting Timeyin off.
“Okay…” Timeyin said, dragging the word.
Akudo let loose another breath then began pacing.
“We are friends right?” She began.
“Yeah?” He responded, dragging his response as well.
“So, I was thinking. Perhaps we could be, I mean…since you are single right now, and I’m…well, you know. So maybe we can sort of, I don’t know…be there for each other?” Akudo stopped her pacing and looked in his direction.
Timeyin had what could best be described as a look of perplexed amusement on his face.
“Are you saying what I think you are saying?” He nearly chuckled.
Akudo averted her eyes. There was no need playing games and going back and forth. It was hard enough for her to say it, and he had got the gist.
“Yes.” She said firmly, her eyes still averted.
Timeyin made a funny sound with his mouth, then slowly sat down at the edge of his sectional, one arm on the armrest and another spread over the headrest. The look of confusion was gone, his face was a mask of utter amusement.
“Let me get you right. Are you saying you want us to be friends with benefits?” Timeyin asked, using his fingers to indicate air quotes as he said ‘benefits’.
Akudo figured she could not be any more embarrassed than she already was, so she answered in the affirmative.
Timeyin stayed quiet for what felt like forever, before he spoke. When he did, his voice was clear.
Akudo’s head snapped up at that. “No?” She asked in disbelief.
“Yep. No!” Timeyin repeated, his gaze boring holes into her. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I am not attracted to you. Oh I am. There are two reasons my answer is ‘no’, and the second is because you are not that type of woman.” Timeyin said, bringing his right ankle to rest on his left knee.
Akudo would have crawled into the ground if it were an option, but it was not.
“Let me guess, the first reason is that you are not that type of guy?” Akudo said after she gathered herself, lifting her chin defiantly. If Timeyin was going to mock her, she was not going to go down without a fight.
“Nope, are you kidding me? Most men would agree to those terms with a woman who is not particularly pretty; how much more a beauty like you.” He quipped.
Akudo folded her arms across her chest, waiting for him to continue.
Timeyin got up, and walked to her. He stood right in front of her and stared right at her.
She met his stare, and though she stood her ground, her resolve wavered at the intensity of the gaze he leveled her way.
“The first reason,” he began finally, “is that I don’t want that. Not with you.”
Akudo’s gaze dropped to an imaginary spec on the ground. This was all too confusing. First he did not want her, then he did, now he did not. What was he saying?
“I want more Akudo.” Timeyin continued, as though he could read her mind.
At that, Akudo’s head snapped up. “What?”
“You heard me. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have had feelings for you for a long time now. I have been fighting them because I was not ready for a relationship, but mostly because I suspected you were not either.”
He stepped closer, fully entering her personal space, and continued.
“I like you, and I am ready to let down my guard and see where this goes but only if you are ready and willing. I don’t like games; never have. Lucky for me, it appears you are terrible at them too.”
Akudo smiled despite herself. This had not gone at all like she had seen it in her head, but she could not say she was disappointed.
“So? What do you say? Do you want to take a chance on us?” Timeyin asked, tilting her head upwards and forcing her to make eye-contact.
Akudo sighed, long and loud.
“No.” She let out.
“No?” Timeyin did not seem completely surprised, but it was clear that he was not expecting her to be that direct.
“I can’t. I’m sorry.” Akudo replied.
“Why not?” Timeyin asked.
His tone was more curious than hurt or offended. Akudo did not know what to make of it, but at the moment; she would rather not answer that question.
She shook her head and averted her eyes.
“Am I not your type?” He asked, a hint of amusement in his tone.
Akudo merely gave him a look that answered his question.
She realised he was joking, maybe to cut through the tension that had engulfed them; but right now, in this moment, with how vulnerable she felt, that joke was just not funny.
If he was not her type, she would not be in this mess right now.
How had this gone so horribly wrong?
She only came to share the good news with him, thank him, wish him a happy birthday and be on her merry way.
What in the hell had happened?
She rubbed her brows with her right hand.
She should have kept her distance from him the moment she realised she was getting fond of him. How had she been able to fool herself into thinking she could be friends with him and nothing more?
She had kissed him. Oh God she had actually kissed him.
He did not lean in, he had not tried to seduce her, he was just sitting there talking, and she leaned in and kissed him!
“If it is the matter of me being around your sons-” Timeyin started, jolting Akudo out of her reverie.
“What? No, no not that.” Akudo said, half turning her body towards him and trying to clear her thoughts.
“Are you worried about what your neighbours would think?”
That thought had not even crossed Akudo’s mind. It was a small piece of the equation, but by no means a strong reason.
“No, no. I…” She trailed off.
“You have to give me something to work with here.” He said, going around her so he was facing her again.
There was a small smile on his lips. He was trying to put her at ease.
Akudo struggled to put her thoughts together. It was clear she was not going to get out of this without some kind of answer.
“I don’t want to believe sex and the occasional company is all you want. You can’t tell me you don’t want more.” Timeyin said, sounding more serious.
Akudo cringed at his words. It sounded so crude and lecherous when he put it that way, but it was more or less what she had asked of him.
She took in a breath, and looked up at him. “I don’t want more.”
“I don’t believe you.” His tone was gentle, but the words were firm.
She looked up at the ceiling, then back at him; exasperation taking over her features.
“Look, it was a mistake. All this was a mistake. I shouldn’t have…” She fumbled for the words.
“You just proved my point.” Timeyin exclaimed. “You cannot even bring yourself to say that you kissed me, and I am supposed to believe you want to be sex buddies?”
Akudo cringed. She did not realise she had cringed visibly until Timeyin spoke again.
“I’m sorry. I am not trying to make you uncomfortable.” His voice was gentler now. “I am just trying to figure you out. You deserve more, and you know you do; so why would you want to settle for less?”
Akudo averted her eyes again, but this time she was upset. Something about him saying she was settling for less rubbed her the wrong way. Like he was saying she was stooping to a level that was beneath her. He may have a point, but she still felt insulted.
She stalked over to where she had dropped her handbag.
She had barely made it two steps when he caught her by the arm.
She spun around, her eyes blazing.
Somehow, that did not seem to faze him.
“What are you afraid of?” He asked, his tone even.
She blinked. The anger she felt suddenly changing to defensiveness.
“Do you not think you deserve more?” His eyes were piercing hers now and she felt trapped.
She freed herself from his grip and crossed her arms at the chest.
“Don’t you want more?” He pressed.
Akudo felt badgered, and she was tired of this line of questioning. Before she could stop herself, she separated her arms and threw them up in frustration as she glared at Timeyin.
“I can’t want more!” she shouted in his face.
It was Timeyin who blinked this time.
“I shouldn’t. I won’t.” Akudo said, her tone growing grim; her jaw hardening.
She held Timeyin’s gaze and watched, with trepidation, as his brows that were raised in surprise slowly furrowed in confusion, then relaxed in comprehension.
She had said very little, but he understood.
He understood that Akudo felt an obligation to remain in widowhood and focus on raising her sons. He understood that she felt she should not be entertaining the thought of love again. She had her chance, and now she was content to face what life had in store for her without a man by her side. He understood that she had resigned herself to that fate, and nothing was going to change that.
She thought being mortified at kissing him, then being rejected by him after she propositioned him was bad. The feeling that took over her now that she had unintentionally bared herself naked to him, could only be described as acute fear. Fear of what he would do with her complete show of vulnerability.
Timeyin cleared his throat.
“I understand.” He said solemnly.
It was all he said, but she also heard the words he did not speak. I still won’t do what you are asking.
She nodded, and turned in the direction of her handbag.
She opened it and pulled out the wrapped box.
“Happy birthday. I hope this…incident won’t ruin the rest of the day for you.” She handed him the box.
“Thank you.” He said, offering her a small smile as he accepted the gift.
She smiled and nodded, then walked herself out of his flat.
Timeyin stared after Akudo as she walked out his front door.
He knew he should have walked her to her car at the very least, but he got the impression she wanted to be alone.
He stared down at the intricately wrapped box in his hand. It was not a small box by any means, it was also not a particularly large one. When had she found time to buy him a gift between studying and mothering?
She was more amazing than she gave herself credit; but if she was going to keep her heart closed off, he was not going to force her.
He knew she was attracted to him. He had figured it out the night of her secondary school reunion when she kissed him on the cheek. He also knew that she had either fought or ignored those feelings, and he did not mind it because he was doing the same.
But when she kissed him today…it was almost as if the kiss took all of his fears and inhibitions, rolled them into a ball, and tossed them into an incinerator.
At first he wished he had recovered from the surprise in time to kiss her back, but when she made that ridiculous proposition, he was glad he had not.
He was not sure whether to feel like a piece of meat, or laugh his head off. She was a textbook ‘good girl’; there was no way he was going to believe she wanted that type of arrangement.
He suspected it was the best thing she could come up with to explain the kiss, even though she seemed like she wanted to climb into a dark hole afterwards.
Anyway, it did not matter now. Timeyin accepted that he liked her, a lot. However, he did not like her enough to put himself in a position to get hurt again. If she did not want a relationship, he was not going to force it. She would likely linger in his thoughts for a few weeks, a month at best, then fizzle into a beautiful memory. He had not put his heart out on the line, and thus was perfectly content to walk away from the situation.
He sank into his sectional, and observed the wrapped box in his hands.
He wondered what it could be.
He peeled away one section of wrapping paper and gasped.
“No!” He exclaimed.
It couldn’t be.
He tore more of the wrapping paper until it was in a neat pile on the floor, and gaped at what he held.
At some point during their conversations, Timeyin had told Akudo of his love for photography.
She had teased him about photography being one of the most popular methods to earn a quick buck these days, but he had explained to her that he was not looking to be an events photographer.
He told her about how he loved to capture the world around him. People, insects, plants, and even the abtract. There was a certain peace that enveloped him whenever he was taking pictures. Looking behind the lens opened up a new world to him. He mentioned that he had some projects that were tying up his funds but as soon as he could afford it, he would buy a high-end DSLR camera. The options he was considering retailed for about $2,000 or more.
Go big or go home right?
After all, this was not just going to be a hobby for him.
She had casually suggested he start with something cheaper but really good, and he could work his way up to the more expensive ones. Especially since technology changed all the time so the models he favoured now, may become second best in a year or two.
He agreed and had done some research. He settled on one that was of the same brand as the higher end options he liked, but retailed for about $500; but he never got around to placing the order.
It was that exact camera that he held in his hands now, and he was in unbelievable, utterly joyous shock.
He looked to the ground where the discarded gift wrap was, and noticed a card. It had a beautiful tribal print on the cover – the kind of art he appreciated. Inside, there was a handwritten note.
‘…because a kind man like you deserves to pursue his dreams too.
His breath caught.
For a moment he just stared at the card.
Suddenly, he grabbed his car keys and bolted out the door.
A few minutes of M.I. Abaga’s “Undisputed”, and Akudo was already feeling better.
She tapped on her steering wheel as she bobbed her head and sang along. The entire album always put her in a good mood but that particular song usually lifted her spirits.
She may have just completely made a fool of herself, but she had managed to walk out of Timeyin’s place with some dignity. When she got home, she was going to bask in the euphoria of passing her certification exam on the first try, help herself to some ice cream, watch some of her guilty pleasures and do anything but think of Timeyin.
She saw headlights flashing in her rear view mirror, and changed lanes.
“Impatient Nigerians.” She muttered to herself.
A few moments later, she could see someone waving in her peripheral.
She turned her head to the right and saw Timeyin signalling for her to pull over.
“What the hell?” She said to herself as she turned on her trafficator and merged onto the right most lane.
She must have forgotten something at his place.
This was just great. Just when she had nearly succeeded in putting him out of her mind.
She rummaged around in her bag and noticed that all her things were intact.
Strange. So why had he gone after her?
She got out of her car just as Timeyin was jogging up to her.
“Hey, did I forget something-” She began, but was silenced by the kiss Timeyin pressed to her lips.
She could not move.
Even if she could, he held her in place.
The sensations that shot through her as the kiss deepened were indescribable.
She knew it was wrong, she knew it was madness, she knew they were out in public but she kissed him back; her hands slowly wrapping around his waist.
Just when she thought she could not have enough of him, he pulled away; but still held her face.
“That is, by far, the most thoughtful gift I have ever received. Thank you.” He breathed, his face merely inches from hers.
Akudo’s head was still spinning from the kiss, but the manner with which he stared at her; the mixture of sheer gratitude and lust in his eyes had the fog in her head clearing up, but sent heat shooting up her spine.
She wanted to say he was welcome, but the words wouldn’t form in her brain.
He let go of her face, but kept his eyes on hers.
She wished he would stop looking at her like that. She was a mess at the moment, and that look was making it worse.
She averted her eyes.
He tilted her chin up so she was staring back at him.
He glanced down at her lips for half a second before looking back up at her eyes. His stare was so intense that she struggled to keep her mind focused.
“This changes nothing. I stand by what I said earlier. I don’t want to play games with you, and I don’t want only a part of you. I want all of you. It’s all or nothing Akudo. The ball is in your court.” He ended by dropping his gaze back to her lips, then planting a soft peck on it.
His gaze shifted back to her eyes, and then he smiled.
She let out a whimper. Even his smile had her stomach in knots.
He turned away from her, jogged back to his car, got in and drove off.
Akudo was glad she had a hand on her car when Timeyin had let go of her. She had lost all function in both legs.
She stumbled a bit, trying to regain her footing as she swung open her car door.
She hurriedly shut the door, and locked it from the inside; then covered her face with both hands.
Her hands were shaking.
What manner of witchcraft was that?
How had a simple kiss had her losing all her senses?
It was not the first time she had been kissed. Besides, only some minutes earlier she had kissed the same man and could still speak proper English afterwards.
Granted, there were sparks then but this…this was damned near magical.
Everything about it was so unreal.
The way he held her face; fingers going into her hair, and thumbs resting in front of her ears. She had never been held like that before.
Sure she has been pulled in for a kiss, maybe had her chin tilted upwards or been pulled close but never the sensual hold of the face. She only ever saw that in movies.
She let out a sharp annoyed sigh.
How in the world did she end up with the affection of a guy that kissed like in the bloody movies? How was she supposed to resist him now?
Suddenly aware of herself and her surroundings, she slid on her seat belt and started her ignition.
Her mind was a flurry of emotions as she drove.
For the first time in a long while, she actually missed Ronke. She was the only one she would have felt comfortable discussing this with.