“No One Thinks You’re a Cinderella”
Safely back inside the kitchen, Taffy felt like kicking herself for her stupidity back there in the dining room, just moments ago. Uduak the cook was busy at the sink, and Taffy gave her the tray of dirty dishes, turning to place hot hands over her now cold cheeks as she wondered about her own strange behaviour. It was just that, when she’d raised her head and caught him staring at her, her brain had gone into reverse.
It wasn’t hard to imagine why, really, she reasoned, as she pretended to rearrange items in the ‘fridge, just to keep herself busy. After all, he was very possibly the most handsome man she had ever met, quite unlike the guys she was used to on campus. What with his ultra stylish, expensive-looking clothes and dashing good looks, he was like something out of a designer cologne ad. She was really glad now that she wasn’t sitting there having dinner with them, she realised. She felt sure she’d have been at a loss for words or how to act, not under that dark, piercing gaze of his.
Suddenly, she heard footsteps approaching, and she quickly shut the fridge and faced the door expectantly, relaxing when she saw it was only Mimi and not her aunt.
“More coleslaw,” Mimi announced, and Taffy took the empty bowl from her to get more from the cooler.
“My gosh, Taffy, isn’t he great?” Mimi gushed, leaning against the counter.
“Who?” was Taffy’s disinterested reply as she busily refilled the salad bowl.
“Zed, of course! That’s short for Zachary, which is his dad’s name too. Isn’t he the most gorgeous guy in the world?”
“Mimi, you say that about all the guys you meet,” Taffy pointed out.
“No, this is different. HE’S different. The way he talks, the way he looks – I’m like, totally floored! I mean, I could hardly get anything down, I was so nervous. And of course, he couldn’t take his eyes off me,” she declared proudly.
“Of course,” Taffy agreed, shoving the bowl into Mimi’s hands. “I mean, who could ignore your obvious charms. But you better get back in there or aunty will start to wonder.”
“Not to mention Zed,” Mimi added with a mischievous wriggle of her eyebrows. “I wouldn’t want him to miss me, either.”
“Oh, go on, girl,” this time it was the usually quiet Uduak who spoke up, sending her a reprimanding look. “You talk too much.”
“Okay, okay!” Mimi laughed, making a face at her cousin, who shook her head with a laugh.
Taffy once again busied herself around the kitchen, replacing items, wiping down surfaces. She could hardly see straight with the mysterious shaft of inner pain that suddenly crossed her eyes. She loved Mimi like the sister, and had never had any cause to envy or be jealous of her – until now.
Mimi had a home; parents who adored her, and gave her everything she could ever ask for. Also, she was so lovely that no right-thinking man wouldn’t be attracted to her. And thinking of this, Taffy, for the first time in her life, and for the first time since she moved into the Attah home ten years ago, she felt very, very sorry for herself.
She remembered the first time she’d stepped into this house, a gawky, sad-eyed teenager. Her father, who had been her aunt’s younger brother, had been killed, along with Taffy’s mother, in a terrible automobile accident a few months earlier. They left behind an orphaned daughter, who was tossed from relative to relative, until her aunt Genevieve appeared and took her from the East to live with her family here in Lagos.
At first, Taffy had found happiness in her new home: her cousin, Mimi, took to her at once, and they became fast friends, due probably to the fact that they were around the same age. They were enrolled into the same schools, and acted just like sisters. Taffy had felt like part of a family again.
But as they grew older, she noticed a change in her aunt’s attitude to her, saw that the woman who was supposed to be her late father’s sister, had never really accepted her as a member of the family. And her husband didn’t help matters by putting up an indifferent air to all that went on in the house. Take for example, that evening: her aunt treating her like a common kitchen help.
Standing there in her stupid ugly dress, coming face to face with the kind of man she’d only seen in her dreams, Taffy had longed to flee rather than let him see her the way she was. He had everything she didn’t – and he was everything she wasn’t. She hadn’t even been considered worthy to share the table with them. Oh, her aunt had made it clear early on that her presence was not required at the table when ever there were prestigious guests – except of course, to wait at table like a stewardess.
And suddenly, life for Tiffany Okon seemed very unfair.
None of the ill-treatment her aunt usually favoured her with, all these years, had ever really bothered Taffy before. It just never seemed to matter. But now, for some reason, it did. And now, she longed so much for the whole evening to be over so that she could lock herself up inside the haven of her room and give way to the hurt emotions that toiled within her soul.
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Mimi chattered on and on about that fateful evening for days afterwards, driving Taffy almost up the wall with her “Zed this, Zed that”. And when her cellphone rang a week later and she heard his voice, Mimi was over the moon.
“Oh hello, Zed. How nice to hear from you.”
Taffy shook her head with hidden amusement at her cousin’s cool exterior as she chatted with Zed. Taffy made the effort to block out their conversation, rolling off Mimi’s bed so she could leave and give her cousin some privacy – until Mimi’s next words stopped her dead in her tracks.
“Hey, come back, Taffy! He wants to speak to you.”
“What?” Taffy asked stupidly, gaping at the phone Mimi was holding out to her.
“Come on, say hello. I told him you were here with me. Take it,” she said firmly, pressing the phone into Taffy’s stiff fingers.
Taffy hesitated for a split second more, then took a deep breath before saying into the phone, “Hi, Zed.”
“Hello, Taffy,” his deep. coffee-grated voice said, making her heart quiver alarmingly. “I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the meal the other night. And to say thank you. I wanted to do so that evening, but never got the chance.”
“Um, you’re welcome. I’m glad you had fun. I’ll give Mimi back the phone now.” And she hurriedly handed it back to her hovering cousin. Mimi carried on with her incessant chatting at once, and Taffy made good her escape.
Taffy was down in the living room, dusting off the many decorative art pieces that doted every corner, a task her aunt had given her before leaving the house that afternoon, when Mimi joined her. She was obviously brimming with excitement.
“We just ended the call, Taffy. And you won’t believe this!”
“Now what?” Taffy sighed, dumping the duster.
Mimi grabbed her shoulders in glee. “Zed wants us to go out with him to this swanky new club opening on Saturday in Lekki – and he’ll be bringing his friend along, so you wouldn’t feel like a third wheel or something.”
Taffy was already shaking her head after the first sentence. “No way, Mimi. Thanks but. . .”
“Don’t you dare do this to me, Taffy,” Mimi groaned, utterly fretful. “I’ve been yakking on and on about Zed all week – even you complained. And now he rings up, wanting to take me – us, out on a dream date, and you want to start acting up!”
“Well, ex-cuse me,” Taffy said, her tone defensive, “I didn’t ask you to accept on my behalf.”
“I know, and I’m sorry. But he suggested it, so I – ”
Taffy frowned thoughtfully. “HE suggested? So it was his idea?”
“Of course!” Mimi exclaimed. “I mean, he knows we’re cousins, I told him so – though in the beginning he thought you were the maid, till I put him straight. And that’s why he decided it wouldn’t be fair to leave you out of it, and asked that you should come too. I thought you’d be as ecstatic as I am!”
“That’s really great, Mimi,” Taffy said through ground teeth, adding with heavy sarcasm, “But this time, Cinderella does NOT want to go to the Ball.”
With that, she stalked out of the sitting room, biting back sobs. The maid indeed! So that’s how he’d viewed her. Why wasn’t she surprised? She had looked the part after all. Well, she didn’t need his – or Mimi’s – act of pity.
“Taffy, chill out,” Mimi pleaded, hot on her heels. “You know it’ll be fun. Zed is really cool, he’s a really nice guy. And I’m sure his friend will be, too. You hardly go anywhere, Taffy. And no one thinks you’re a “Cinderella”. I just. . .I just wanted you to do something enjoyable for once.”
At the sound of the gentle sincerity she detected in Mimi’s voice, Taffy turned round with a sigh. feeling her anger melt away. Mimi was a darling but she just didn’t think before she spoke sometimes. In fact, Taffy felt stupid for over reacting the way she had.
She lifted her shoulders in resignation. “I know how much you like Zed, and if it’ll make you happy, I’ll come with you.”
And was rewarded with a huge bear hug. “Thank you, thank you,” gushed Mimi, grabbing Taffy’s hand and dragging her up the stairs. “We have barely four days to prepare, and I know we’ll need every minute of it. Our hair, our nails. . . good grief, do we even have anything to wear!”
Taffy could only shake her head with a smile at those words. Mimi, who had a trailer load of beautiful clothes and shoes. They spent the next hour rummaging through Mimi’s extensive wardrobe, until finally, typically, Mimi announced that she absolutely did not have anything suitable for the occasion, and concluded that they would have to go shopping the next day.