I watched as some salad cream blotted her upper lip, while her fork made its way into her mouth, and she tirelessly talked about how her day had been. “It was so lovely at the office today,” she said excitedly. “Do you remember my boss, Deinde Fernandez?’’ she asked.
I answered, “Sure,” in the affirmative, even though I had not the slightest inkling on whom Deinde was. If he was someone I had earlier met, I couldn’t remember him. Bur I had learned to play along when she mentions the names of people she feels I should know. Should I indicate otherwise, she’d, by all means, make certain I remember.
“I never knew Deinde was forty-five years old. The guy is really advanced in age,” she further enthused, staring at her plate.
“Advanced in age at forty-five?” I responded, cutting her off. I was surprised that she regarded the age of forty-five, which I was quite close to in age, as old.
“Of course forty-five is advanced,” she retorted. “Most men begin to see their first grey tufts at that age. Once your hair becomes blanched by age, you very well qualify to be deemed as advanced.”
After she said this, breeze from an air-conditioner, close to the table we occupied blew wisps of her brown hair astray, tousling her hair a little bit. She afterward coiffed the hair strands to the back with her hands, removed a silver hairclip from her purse, and fastened the stray wisps of hair against being blown away again.
“Deinde treated us with cupcakes and malt drinks for his birthday today. The cakes were really good! I couldn’t have enough of them,” she then informed me. Then she talked about how wonderful Deinde’s birthday celebration had been, talked about what she thought the cakes were baked from.
The spatter of salad cream was still on her upper lip. It just stuck there, staring me in the face. I was transfixed by the blotch. And barely was I listening to what she was saying. My eyes were on what was supposed to be a mess on her upper lip. Moreover, she was so carried away by what she was saying that whether I was listening to her or not was inconsequential. It went unnoticed.
Momentarily, she shifted her the discussion to anecdotes about her colleagues—Bolaji, who she shared an office with on the first floor of the building, who gossips a lot; Maryam, who occupied the customer service stand, who loved to smile a lot; James, the accountant at the branch office, who was a walking calculator, or perhaps something of that sort; Modupe, the beautiful receptionist, who was always the cynosure of all eyes, and the person to whom wealthy customers were attracted. She elaborated on the personalities of these people. The conversation, rather one-sided, was becoming boring. For she was all I cared about, and not the people she worked with. Besides, the dinner was supposed to be ‘our’ time.
Still gawking at her upper lip, I hesitated to tell her about the salad cream fleck. For some bizarre reason, I thought it looked lovely on her lip. Silly thoughts ran through my mind; thoughts of giving her a sensual kiss, thereby doing away with the blotch in the process.
But I soon said, “Honey, you have a little something on your upper lip,” moving my left index finger in an up-down gesture.
“Really!” she exclaimed. “What is it and for how long has it been there?” she asked, in a rather dramatic way.
“It is a little salad cream stain, and it has been there for a while,” I answered softly. “But it actually looks good on you. Besides, I just thought about getting rid of it for you, with a kiss. But of course, that is if you are so desirous of one,” I teased, anticipating a go-ahead to kiss her. Something within me really wanted the kiss.
“Don’t be a pervert,” she however countered. “Remember what we agreed on—no form of sexual intimacy. You don’t even get a peck, let alone a kiss. Moreover, we’re in a public place. You don’t want to get all these faces glued on the both of us for the rest of the evening.”
Her answer was somewhat disappointing to me. She and I had agreed to steer clear of any form of sexual intimacy till I walked her down the aisle. She was a born-again Christian and wouldn’t compromise her values for anybody. She was very different from the girls I had previously dated, many of whom were what I choose to call, “easy lays,” either only interested in taking my money or simply bereft of dignity; dignity which she had to the fullest.
“Wouldn’t you at least wipe out the mess on my upper lip, mister?” she then said playfully.
“Of course dear,” I responded.
There were pink serviettes on the oval table. I slowly picked up one of them, folded it into a rectangle, and then mildly dabbed against her upper lip, mistakenly rubbing off some of her lip gloss. “Oops! I smeared your lip gloss,” I then said, reporting myself.
“Don’t worry about that,” she said. “I can always touch it up. Besides, it’s already dark outside. No one will notice.” She grinned. Then she cocked her head to the left and said, “I think we should do more of these outings. I’m really enjoying being with you. You literally sweep me off my feet.”
Hearing these words from her gave me goose bumps. Even though I felt the last statement she made was corny, I enjoyed hearing it. I smiled, without uttering any word in response, gazing at her. Then I broke my gaze. Because of this, she chuckled at me.
“Why are you laughing?” I questioned, a bit embarrassed by how I may have appeared, the fact that I stayed mute after she made mention of what she said, and what she most likely had in mind.
“Were you embarrassed by what I just said?”
“I wasn’t. Why would I be when I feel the same way about you,” I retorted in defence.
“Well, it’s just that your face became flushed almost immediately after I spoke, and you stayed silent for a while.”
I shuddered. I thought, so much for being very light-skinned. My almost yellow face couldn’t even conceal my emotions from her. She had obviously read me like a book. Nonetheless I was happy that she disclosed how she felt about me.
In the meantime, a waiter sauntered purposefully toward our table. He wore a waistcoat, which had blue satin fabric at its back. He carried a bottle of champagne in a wine bucket. His gait was awkwardly straight. Based on what seemed obvious, he had been trained to walk that way, as the other waiters in the restaurant seemed to walk likewise.
“Good day sir and madam,” he said politely, after having approached our table. He smiled broadly at us after he said this, and this made me wonder if we were in a tooth paste commercial or something.
“Can we help you?” I asked.
“We are commemorating our tenth year anniversary in this restaurant, so we’re offering champagne to every customer today,” he said.
I was startled. Freebies weren’t ubiquitous in Lagos restaurants. My companion and I graciously said thank you, as two wineglasses were being filled for us. We downed the glasses of champagne we’d been poured by the waiter. Then I noticed that other occupied tables were receiving similar treatments by other waiters. It really was no hoax that the restaurant was dealing out free champagne to its customers.
“Back to what you were saying about how your day went,” I then said, in an attempt to change the topic we were talking about before the waiter’s interruption. I sipped more champagne from my wineglass. My hands covertly reached for my pocket, touching the black box I had therein. The black suede exterior of the box caressed my palm.
“Yes,” she continued wholeheartedly. “Work was pretty much the same today, though the better part of the day, aside this beautiful evening with you, had me eating those cupcakes.”
“You can’t be serious!” I immediately interjected, wishing I had, for crying out loud, tasted the so-called delicious cupcakes. “It seems those cupcakes were really good. You should have smuggled some for me, at the very least, instead of coming here to make me salivate,” I jocularly reproved.
She forged ahead a bit to reach for my cheeks. “I’m so sorry. But the cake was so good. I can’t just help talking about it.” She said this in an overly affected manner. Then she reclined from the slanting position she had to assume to reach for my cheeks.
Thereafter, we focused on our plates and wineglasses, uttering no words. I stealthily reached for my pocket again, grabbing the black box, making sure she didn’t notice. I had to wait for the appropriate time to do what I had in mind. I battled with the chicken drumstick in my plate, deftly handling the cutleries, and sipping some more champagne after every successful attempt at getting a piece of chicken into my mouth.
Moments later, her face lit up again, and she said, “Hector, our anniversary is next month. By the tenth of next month we will have dated for three years.” She smiled, exposing the diastema amid her dentition.
“You’re right. We’ll be three years old. Three years is no easy feat; getting through every disagreement; staying in love through the thick and thin. We’ve really been through a lot together,” I added.
“You can say that again,” she persisted. “We really have been through a lot together. We have to go to somewhere special on our anniversary day. For the record it’s my pick, and I’ll be taking care of the bill that day.” She beamed again, batting her eyes.
“No problem,” I said, raising my wineglass in a toast to a beautiful relationship we had had.
But I thought it ironic that she was particular about being the one to foot the bill. How lucky I was to have such a woman! Never before had she been about what she could take but ways in which she could give.
Yet it hadn’t really dawned on me that we had dated for three solid years. The fact that I had stayed faithful without sleeping around puzzled me even more. I didn’t realize how much of a different person I had become because of her. She had literally turned my life around and made me a better man.
Yet again, my hands went to my pocket for the black box. I needed her to take a permanent place in my life, as my wife. Nevertheless, there seemed to be this peace in my heart—peace that comes from having found that which you have long been looking for. I was convinced that she was the right one.
“A penny for your thought,” she said, shrugging, breaking my train of thought. “I wonder what’s lurking in that mind of yours.”
“You’ll know soon enough,” I hinted.
She smiled and replied, “Hector, you’ve been acting a little strange this evening. I don’t know why I have this feeling that you’re up to something.”
I smirked, sipped some champagne, and said, “up to something? You make it sound like I’m some mischievous fellow. You know me too well. That makes me love you even more.” I said this hoping she hadn’t figured out what I had in mind. I wanted it to be a surprise, just like the movies, or perhaps not that dramatic. But I wanted it to be romantic.
To be continued.