I stood by a window upstairs, observing unobtrusively for sometime as he worked. It was a warm morning with the sun just making its presence felt in the sky.
He wore shorts and nothing else, leaving his chest bare. As he washed the car, his toned biceps bulged with the energetic movement of his hand.
My eyes flickered all over him, from his face to his chest, flat stomach then his sturdy legs sprinkled with dark hair. I was transfixed and could not tear my eyes away; it was like I was under a spell or something.
I knew I should not be doing this- ogling and fantasizing about my neighbour who was also my husband’s tenant. But I could not help myself.
It had been this way since I first met Benji. it was about four months ago when he moved into the duplex next to ours, owned by my husband.
The first day he moved in, he had come over to my house to see my husband who was on a break from his job offshore.
He was simply dressed in jeans and a black T shirt with loafers on his feet. He made quite an impression on me not just for his good looks but his intelligence. An IT specialist and consultant, he did consulting jobs for some top companies in the country and abroad.
“Nice meeting you, Madam,” he said as he shook my hand that afternoon before leaving.
“Let us know if you need anything. I’m hardly at home because of my work but my wife is often around. You can always ask her,” said my husband.
He looked at me keenly for a moment then smiled, revealing even teeth.
“I’ll do that. Thanks for your warm welcome,” he said.
Maybe it was that smile for throughout that day, I kept thinking about our new neighbour. From then on, I looked forward to seeing him. It was not easy because of his work which kept him busy but once in a while, I would be standing by our gate in the evenings and he would drive home. He would stop and say hello and chat for a bit.
Then I began to watch whenever he washed his car at weekends particularly on Saturday mornings. That chore used to be done by his younger brother but since he left for the NYSC programme, Benji started doing it.
It gave me a thrill watching him in that manner and it made me look forward to Saturday mornings.
One Saturday evening, I was returning home from seeing off a friend, Edith who lived in our estate when a car stopped by me.
I turned to see Benji at the wheel.
“Heading home?” he asked.
He offered to drop me so I got in.
“How’s Blessing?” he enquired as we drove along. Blessing was my four year old daughter.
“She’s ok. She’s at home.”
We got to our Close and as I was about to get down, he said:
“Can you help me with something?”
“What’s it?” I turned to gaze at him.
He said he needed assistance in preparing the dish he wanted for his dinner that evening.
“It’s fresh fish pepper soup. I like it but have no idea how to make it. Actually,” he said, pausing. “I’m not good at cooking. My sister, Becky was supposed to come over this evening to prepare some dishes for me but she had a programme to attend at her church. So…”
“It’s not hard to prepare. It’s one of the simplest dishes to make. Do you have the ingredients already?”I asked him as we got down in his compound.
Inside, in his neat kitchen, I inspected the contents of his well stocked freezer.
Except for the spices, the other ingredients were available.
So, I called my maid, Angie to get some scent leaf from my backyard where we had planted some vegetables.
Soon, the soup was bubbling nicely in the pot.
“Hmm. Smells nice,” he intoned on entering the kitchen.
He stood by me, looking into the steaming pot on the cooker.
He rubbed his hands together, smiling down at me.
“Can’t wait to have it!”
Being so close to him, in his home was playing havoc on me. I could feel my heart thumping and a warm feeling coursing through me which had nothing to do with the heat from the cooker.
I moved away from him to the sink to wash and clean up. And also calm myself.
I checked the soup, tasted it one more time. It was done so I lowered the heat so it could simmer for a while before serving.
“Food is ready. Bon apetit,” I stated, removing the apron I had worn while cooking.
“Don’t tell me you are leaving? Who’s going to eat all this? Stay and share it with me,” he said when he saw me preparing to leave.
“I’ve to go check on Blessing. She’s…” I began to say when he cut in, holding my wrist.
“Please. I hate eating alone,” he pleaded, his eyes looking at me in a way that increased the erratic beating of my heart. I felt as if I was suffocating and I knew that I should get out of that house ASAP.
But like a programmed doll, I found myself serving the soup, taking it to the dinning table and sitting down with him.
He made small talk as we ate, but all I could think about was the thrill that went through me when he held my hand. If I could feel that way at a mere touch on the hand, what would it be like if he kissed me? I quickly shook my head at the thought, coughing a little.
“You need some water?” he asked in a concerned tone. He quickly poured some water in a glass for me which I drank.
“I guess the pepper is a bit much.”
“I love it that way. Hot and spicy. It’s good for this weather, with the rainy season and all,” he noted.
Later, after eating and clearing the dishes, I went to the bathroom to freshen up before leaving for home.
At the door, he said:
“Thanks for the meal. One of the best pepper soups I’ve ever tasted. You’re such a good cook, Madam Crystal.”
“You can call me Crystal.”
“Alright. Crystal,” he said, smiling at me, his eyes crinkling at the corners.
He opened the door and perhaps, in my haste to leave before I did something crazy, my phone slipped and fell on the floor.
“Sorry,” he said, bending down to retrieve it at the same time as I did.
We bumped into each other and he apologised again.
I raised my head, just as he did and our eyes locked for an intense moment. Then, like a magnet, our heads drew closer and closer…