She caught them underneath the staircase, whispering furtively about things she could only wonder about. Jeta smiled when he saw her, a thin, wispy shot of a smile that veiled plans that only he knew. Ore laughed, her guilty look appearing and disappearing in shades as they broke away from each other and put some space between themselves.
“I cross checked earlier, I told you.” She said. “They delivered exactly twenty cartons.”
“It didn’t hurt to re-check.” He replied.
“Hmn! Jeta the shrewd!” She said with a laugh. “I told you they wouldn’t dare make the same mistake twice.”
Then she left brushing briefly against Kenny, her soft, culpable footsteps hurrying down the hallway.
“Hi, Kenny, we were just taking stock of the drinks supplied.”
‘This is the third time this week.’ Kenny thought to herself as her confused eyes searched Jeta’s own. It was hard to imagine. Her boy friend, and her own best friend.
“You were taking stock of the drinks.” She said, her eyes willing him to tell her the truth.
Jeta glanced down at the cartons of drinks stacked on top of one another in neat piles underneath the stair case. “Of course! It’s been necessary to cross check ever since they shortchanged us the other time.” Then he looked at her. “What did you think?”
Kenny didn’t reply. She turned right round and walked away. She knew exactly what they were doing. She knew it didn’t involve stock taking.
Ever since she had envisioned the idea of the cafe, her sister had warned her about going into a business partnership. Kenny had waved her worries aside and insisted it was Jeta. Jeta loved her and they were planning to get married.
“Partnerships don’t end well.” Her sister had said. “One partner always cheats the other.”
“Jeta can never do that.” Kenny had replied. “I trust him with my life. Besides we are involving Ore. You know Ore.”
“Money doesn’t know anybody!” Her sister had continued. “It’s always fine and dandy till the money starts coming in. You really need to rethink this whole thing. It’s your idea!”
Kenny hadn’t listened. She had started the café with her boyfriend and her best friend. And things had been fine and dandy, till the money started to come in.
As they locked up that night, Kenny had much on her mind. Jeta seemed to want to catch Ore’s attention, but Ore was busy, or so she appeared to Kenny. She was counting the money they had made that night selling hot dogs and sharwama. As Kenny put the grills away, she mused at her stupidity and wondered how she had missed the first signs. She didn’t talk to either of them on the way home. Not when Ore dropped at the gate of her house, or when Jeta pulled his tattered Toyota Corolla into the compound housing their two bed room.
Jeta was talking on the phone as they parked and walked in.
“Just order it, Ill pay.” He said. “Thanks dear.”
‘Was that Ore?’ Kenny couldn’t help but think. ‘Were they concluding the parts of the conversation they hadn’t been able to have while she was in the car.’
She pretended not to care, but while Jeta slept loud and long, she tossed and turned. Questions kept her awake. Why were they sneaking around? Why didn’t he just tell her he wasn’t interested anymore? As things stood, she was prepared to give him up. If he wanted to be with someone else, it was alright. A thought then occurred to her. ‘What if it wasn’t just an affair and they were also scheming off the profits?’ The financial entries the week before hadn’t tallied with the hard cash, but she had been too tired to look into it. Planning the recipes were her expertise but the finances and cash flow plans were all Jeta.
She couldn’t sleep. Worry made her get out the books, worry that her sister had been right. The business was only six months old and already, the demand for their snacks had risen and with it, the income. She poured through the books and saw the discrepancies. Three weeks had seen a few thousand naira missing. Kenny was first disappointed. Then she was angry. She wished she had hired a lawyer to draft a partnership agreement like her sister had advised. She wished she hadn’t trusted Jeta with her heart or her life savings. She wished she could crawl back into bed and go to sleep and forget everything. But she knew what she had to do, she had to confront them.
Kenny walked over to the bedroom and stared for a long moment at Jeta’s sleeping frame. Then she walked over to her dressing table, yanked off a pair of scissors and marched over to the wardrobe. Then she opened the door and ripped out the first male shirt she found. Snip, snip went the scissors. Snip, snip across the collar and sides, Jackets, ties, trousers, nothing escaped Kenny’s angry hands. The snips went well into the early hours of the morning. Satisfied, she went to sleep.
The morning came with the sun streaming into their room bright and early. Jeta sat up in bed and stared aghast at the pieces of material that lay on the floor, buttons, collars and pockets. A huge pile of what used to be his clothes.
He sat for a long time staring at the mess in the room and taking deep breaths of air. Kenny arose from her troubled sleep and remembered her night of insomnia.
“What is this?” Jeta’s voice was quiet, broken.
“Whatever!” Kenny said standing up and ignoring him.
“You ruined my clothes.” Jeta said and took in another deep breath. “Why?”
“Don’t think I don’t know what you are doing!” Kenny shouted. “You and Ore, whispering and sneaking around behind my back! Did you think I wouldn’t find out? I checked the books you idiots. You lying, cheating, horrible man! I trusted you! I believed in us! How could you do that to me! With my best friend you two timing, two faced ingrate…… ” Her voice rose with each sentence.
Jeta could only stare in disbelief as Kenny ranted on and on. He looked completely confused as he sat in the bed shirtless and owning nothing else but the pair of trousers he was wearing.
The front door bell rang. Kenny kept shouting and calling him all sorts of names.
Jeta stood up and walked out of the bedroom to open the front door. A young boy stood at the door, carrying a large white box sealed with a red bow.
“I have this delivery for Miss…”
Jeta didn’t allow him finish. He pointed dejectedly at the screaming lady who had followed him into the sitting room.
Kenny stopped when she saw the box. The young boy smiled.
“This is for you ma.”
“From who?”She said with a frown.
In trouped Banky, Alex, Temidayo, George, Bianca, Mosun their joint friends, followed by all their staff from the Café including Ore.
“Happy Birthday!” They all yelled. Banky and Mosun blew tiny paper trumpets and Ore threw confetti in the air. George and Alex came in carrying a small cooler of drinks while Bianca had the three packets of steaming hot pizza. Temidayo grabbed her in a hug and everyone took turns in singing and wishing her well.
Kenny’s mouth was open. She glanced at Jeta who was leaning against the wall with his hands in his pyjama trouser pockets.
He shrugged. “Today is your birthday, as well as Valentine’s day.” He said. “I figured we would be busy all day at the Café, thought to make your morning special. Besides everyone probably has val plans later in the evening. That’s what we were planning.”
“I’m so sorry.” She mouthed as she received the gifts and tried to smile through her feelings of foolishness. Their living room was a flurry of activity as the pizza boxes were opened and drinks handed round. Kenny couldn’t remember ever feeling more loved. The cake was a really beautiful white with a large red heart on the top. Her name was scribbled in between the heart.
Ore noticed Jeta’s aloofness and hurried over to him. “Are you okay?” She whispered concerned.
Jeta’s eyes were trained on Kenny. “She suspects.” was his curt reply.