June was woken by the ringing of her phone. She had dozed off watching TV on the couch in their living room. She looked at the screen and hissed as she silenced it. It was some dude from her University days she’d run into a few days ago on her way from the radio station. The man she needed to speak to had not called. It was an eventful date they had yesterday. She had gotten a 6-pack of ginger beer, a bottle of Vodka and some lime on their way to his place. She’d also gotten take-out food which they ate at his place. Noticing the pool serving the block of flats was empty, she suggested they spent some time swimming. They swam, drank and talked till sometime past 7pm, then went back to his apartment. She was beginning to understand Tari, it was his first time using the pool there, though he’d stayed in the block for over a year. Yet he was an excellent swimmer.
It was not that he was not capable of fun he was just very laid back. The only thing he seemed pushy about was his work. She just had to play the game differently. More talk over a few more drinks on the balcony, she complained of getting cold and they retired to his bedroom where she changed in his presence and got comfortable under the duvet. He left and came back with a hot cup of cocoa for her which she took with glee teasing him for being an “under cover” romantic, he had laughed and sat next to her on the bed. When she was done, she got out of bed to return the mug to the kitchen, but he wouldn’t let her. A friendly tussle ensued, and when she would not give up at the level of force he felt was safe to use, he resorted to tickling her, they had then landed in bed. Things had quickly heated up, her night top was gone and so was his T-Shirt.
His kisses were slow and deliberate, she’d wanted to hurry him along, but knew that was ‘Drunk June’ trying to take charge. Somehow, she had maintained her calm and responded at his pace, a feeling of surprise and contentment washing over her, amongst other things. “Who would have thought?” she murmured. He was slowly pulling at the ropes that bound her pyjama trousers around her waist when his phone shattered the moment. “I really have to get that.” he managed huskily when she’d held on to him. She let him go with a sigh. It had turned out to be a call from his boss requesting he joined a Skype conversation. He promised to be back soon, “Come finish what you started, Mister.” she had teased as he left the room. “Def!” he had replied with a wink. That was the end of it. She had woken up in the morning to find him about dropping her a note.
“Damned Moscow Mule!” she swore. He told her the call had been 23 minutes, she was fast asleep when he returned to bed and he could not bring himself to wake her. He had to be in the office, so he had dropped her at home. She knew he would be at the office a while before his language lessons. She was determined not to call him first. He’d promised to call when he had dropped her off. “Call me, Mr. Whiteriver…” she said recalling how his lips had felt on her skin. Becky had had all sorts of laughs when she had told her about it all. It was no longer funny to her, it was becoming a bad streak. She wished she’d slept a little longer, though; it would have been nice to see the content of a note he dropped. Now that she was sure this was a guy with a lot of romantic potential.
She got up and looked at her watch. Priscy’s wedding was exactly 2 weeks away and it was her duty to get matching shoes for all the ladies on the Bride’s train. 8 ladies, a range of sizes but a choice of 1 of 2 possible colours. Priscy (and the others) had trusted her with it; and as long as it didn’t strain her or drain her purse, she was fine with it.
Becky painstakingly put the laptop back the way she had met it, logging off on the same tab she had met opened. Tari had just called, he was on his way. She left the dinning table, slipped on her shoes and got herself a glass of water from the kitchen. How was she to handle this? She drank another glass, washed the glass and replaced it before returning to the living room where she sat on a sofa to wait. He arrived a little while later and handed her a sheaf of papers, “Here.” he said, then sat across from her. One look at the first page told her it was a contract of some sort. “Its a consultancy. You’ll be needed to attend some business meetings and act as a translator when necessary. I thought you’d like it.” he explained, “Okay…” she said, scanning page after page of terms and legalese.
“Go through it and let me know if you have any questions or a counteroffer. You may want to show it to a lawyer too.” he said. His tone was business. She looked up at him when she arrived at the last page, then asked “How long do I have to get back to you?” “Wednesday at the latest. We must engage someone before Friday.” he replied. “Thanks a lot.” she said as she put the document in her bag. “No need to thank me, you deserve it.” he said with a smile. She smiled back. “How about we skip today’s lesson?” Tari said, “I’m pretty spent.” he added. Becky’s mind went to the events she’d heard from the night before, she quickly pulled it back to the present. She had gotten a very good opener for what she wanted to ask, she had to seize it. “Its okay. I’ll leave you with exercises and we’ll take it from there next week.” she said. “Fantastic!” Tari said, got up and retrieved his laptop.
He took the same seat across from her as he logged in. Becky could see, in her mind’s eye, what he was doing by paying attention to his motions. By the time he brought the laptop and sat next to her with the tab on the language course freshly signed in, she was proven right. He was hiding something. She decided to play her hand; “Do test 14 and 15.” she said with a smile. “!4 and 15?” he asked surprised. “Yes.” she said, picked up her bag and got up. “Is that a joke?” he asked frowning at her. “Nope!” she said still smiling down at him. “But we stopped at exercise 8!” he cried. “Yes, WE did. But YOU are on 13.” she said walking to the door. “No, you didn’t!” he railed. “Yes, I did, Tari! Quit messing with my head!” she shouted back. “How could you?” he said leaving his seat. Becky was getting scared but stood her ground, albeit, with one hand on the door knob.
“You never said I couldn’t! All I wanted to do was prepare for the today’s lesson and I find Tari-the-Genius was waaaaaay ahead of class! And all the while, he’d been pretending, flunking questions on purpose, keeping his grades in check. To what end, Tari? Please, tell me.” she poured. Tari stood transfixed, his anger had been overtaken by a feeling of sudden exposure and vulnerability. “Would you, at least, sit down?” Tari managed. “I’m fine right here.” Becky insisted, maintaining her place by the door. She sensed his anger had simmered down, but she was not taking any chances. “Let’s sit and talk this -” he was saying. “Just tell me why you did this. Simple!” she pressed. He sighed then said, “I don’t know, Becky.” “You don’t know! You really expect me to believe someone like you doesn’t know why he did something?” Becky said with a mirthless laugh.
Just then, she felt the door knob turn, she stepped aside as it swung open. On the other side was Dan, keys in hand, with a girl who looked vaguely familiar to her beside him. She never thought she could be so glad to see him. “Hi.” he said. “Hello.” she replied as he and the girl walked in. Becky caught the door on its return and slipped out of the house, walked down the stairs and to the road side in search of a cab home. When Tari didn’t turn up until she found 1, she knew how he had played it – cool, reserved, laid back. In the cab she got thinking. “Why was Tari purposely working on keeping me around longer than was necessary?” she asked herself. She was not even going to deceive herself and think he probably was into her or something like that. Someone like June had not been able to get him excited, she, Becky, was surely nothing to him. There was no way he was stricken by her.
The other thing she could think of was maybe June had somehow let him in on her financial challenges and all that and he’d found this roundabout method to help. Over-paying her as well as unnecessarily elongating the duration of the work. She did know that her charges were pretty steep, June had had a hand in that. And now the guy had turned around to make it clear he didn’t care about it. Or maybe plainly rubbing it in their faces that the bills didn’t hurt. Or…. “I don’t know!” she said attracting a curious look in the mirror from the driver. She looked away. “Even if he wanted to help me, did he have to be so condescending about it?” she murmured. But then, wasn’t she looking a gift-horse in the mouth? Wasn’t she being plain paranoid? Maybe there were no cruel intentions anywhere in all of this and she was just being unduly disturbed.
She considered discussing the whole development with June, but decided against it. She didn’t want to rain on June’s parade. June was beginning to get real excited about the possibilities of Tari’s true nature as a lover. Becky had an unfair insight already – the fact about Tari’s past, so she could understand why Tari has held back this long, but now that he seemed to be coming on strong, she didn’t want to be the one to dampen June’s enthusiasm. All she had to do was stay put, stay out of their way and do her work – overpaid or not. She had to set some ground-rules; first of which would be not to spend a minute with Tari if it was not strictly business. She’d come up with others later. She pulled the contract out of her bag and began to look through again. The hourly rate made her mouth water, but there was a sour twist to it all.
“Damn you, Tari!” she swore. “Why does your life and all you do have to be so complex?” She was not sure she should take the offer, she was not sure she wanted to continue encouraging Tari in whatever it was he was driving at. She didn’t like being manipulated, not like she could say that with clean hands herself. After all she and June had manipulated him by leveraging his relationship with one of them to enrich the other. She was not going to bother showing this to June. She knew how June would approach it -with a calculator! She’d simply busy herself converting US Dollars to Naira and would definitely insist she took the offer without a second’s delay. If she didn’t have this feeling of suddenly not wanting to be indebted to Tari any more than she already was, she would have it signed and delivered in the morning herself.
Tari sat at his desk, earphones plugged in form his phone, he was listening to the morning show. It was constantly amusing to hear June on Air sounding larger-than-life while reading folk’s messages and making witty remarks. He remembered how scared and helpless she had been the day he’d met her, he remembered how she had melted in his hands 2 nights ago. He could have woken her up after his Skype conversation, but what was the rush? She’d been drinking heavily and the sleep would do her good. He looked up as Meg walked into his office carrying a parcel. “Hello” she said smiling. “Good morning, Meg.” Tari replied leaning back even further in his chair. “This arrived for you.” she said. “You work the Mail room now?” he teased. “Very funny. I happened to be in the reception when it was dropped off.” she said throwing the parcel at him.
He laughed. “Thanks. Would you like something to drink?” he asked causing her to roll her eyes. “No, it’s a little early.” she replied. “I was not offering alcohol, Meg.” Tari said, placing the parcel on the left side of his desk. “Won’t you open that?” She asked eyes on the parcel. It had been hand-delivered and not by a courier company. “Not while you are here.” Tari said with a mischievous smile. Meg let go a loud and long hiss, spun on her heels and walked out. Tari laughed through it all. He looked at the parcel and could guess what it was, taking one more look at his shut door to make sure Meg was gone, he picked up the parcel and opened it. It contained the contract he had given Becky yesterday. He turned to the page where she was meant to have signed and found the lines still empty. “What the heck’s she driving at?” he said, tossing it on the table.
All else aside, this was simply ungrateful on her part. He shook the package over his desk to see if a note, some kind of explanation, would drop out. There was none. He sat back for a few minutes and gathered his thoughts. Thankfully Meg had not been here to witness it. Slowly, he picked up his phone and tapped out an SMS to Becky:
“Let me know when you can talk. Its urgent.”
He assumed she would be busy with a class or something, so he’ll let her choose when a good time is for her. In the meantime, he’d prepare his mind. “What could be the issue?” he asked himself. The only thing he could blame for this was what she had learned by accessing his learning portal. It would be too bad for all concerned if that had sunk the trust between them in one blow. “There had to be a way.” he said as he waited for her reply.
Becky said goodbye to the other teachers in the Staff room as she walked out into the evening sunshine. Today, she didn’t head in the direction of the staff quarters, instead she headed towards her recently preferred exit gate. It was abuzz with vehicles coming to get kids. Most were driven by drivers or relatives, many of the parents never had the time to come get their flesh and blood themselves. She thought of the where she was heading – Tari’s office. She had prepared for the meeting long before she had begged her neighbour’s cousin, who rode a bike, to help drop off the document at Tari’s this morning. She was in class when Tari’s text had come in and didn’t see it till she left for the staff room. She scrolled through the message thread again:
“Let me know when you can talk. Its urgent.”
“Busy @ work till 4pm.”
“I’ll rather we talk in person. I’ll be at the office.”
She took one of the numerous cabs waiting outside the school and gave the driver Tari’s office address. They both knew she needed the money. A call from her younger brother earlier in the day was a non-needed reminder. All she needed Tari to do was answer a few questions. She’d done a little research too. Most women wanted to know how to get a desirable man, others wanted to keep his attention, she had looked up how to keep a desirable man at bay. To be honest, she did find Tari desirable and before he picked up on the scent and acted upon it, she had to forestall it and defend her heart. Beyond her heart, she had to defend her friendship with June and prevent a sick triangle among all three parties. But she had to hear him out today first. Hopefully she was only overreacting. “Please, Tari, prove me wrong.” she whispered.
She sat in Tari’s office and waited. A lady, who’d introduced herself as Meg, had come down for her at the reception, apologising that Mr. Whiteriver was in a meeting but insists she was made comfortable in his office. Becky had auto-declined all offers of refreshments and had soon been left alone to wait She could not keep from looking endlessly at the package she had sent in earlier as it sat on the table. Tari arrived, apologized for keeping her, sat behind his desk and asked “So, tell me, why won’t you sign these?”. “Because it feels like one of your funny games again.” she fired, recalling June’s description of Tari’s attitude with her. “Games? Are you referring to the little business with my progress in your class or something else?” he asked with a questioning look. “Is there something else, Tari?” she asked in return. “Enough of these innuendos. Can we get to issue here?” he said fingering the documents which he’d now slipped out of the package.
“Why do you want me to sign those so badly, Sir?” she asked. “Because I already put a word in for you, got you through the process, got you accepted and would like to have it wrapped up ASAP.” he explained. “Why me?” she pressed. “Because you deserve it.” he answered. “Just that? Nothing more?” she asked. “Nothing more.” he affirmed. “Then why do you want to keep me around you longer than necessary?” she asked about the lessons. “Maybe you have not noticed, but I don’t have many friends and don’t do much outside work. I enjoy having you around.” he confessed. “You didn’t have to manipulate it. All you had to do was ask.” she scolded. “You would have turned me down, you’d consider your friendship with June at risk.” he explained. “Maybe. Maybe not.” she replied. He shrugged. “I’m sorry.” he said.
A silence descended upon the office. It lasted two full minutes. Becky was looking down at her shoes all through, knowing full well Tari’s eyes were keenly on her. It made it hard for her to think. She still had a feeling there was something she was not seeing, something that was being incorrectly assessed by her clouded mind. His seeming honesty, what she knew about him and, really, the money at stake was making her vision skewed. She knew it, but could do nothing about it. She could not break the fog. “This is all about you, Tari, isn’t it? You don’t want to fail your superiors.” she suddenly said. “Does it help you, Becky?” he replied in a quiet tone. She made no answer. He had made his point, it was beneficial for them both. “Ok.” she said. He slipped the document across the table to her and gave her a pen. She might as well take the leap and hope she finds a soft landing.
She was now on a cab home, after refusing, twice, his offer to drop her off. “Fuck hope!” she murmured. She was not going to play this one by hope. She was going to ensure she came to the end of this a winner. “Continuous Pursuit of Happiness.” she thought. She was going to do whatever it takes to make and keep her happy. She was going to ensure she didn’t hurt June. She was going to ensure Tari could not see her in any other light but his Language teacher and an Official translator. She had found something from the unwritten “Bro Code” ; the fact that certain girls were supposedly off-limits to a guy, a factor of their relationship with the guy in question or someone the guy had ties with. Of course it was not a sure-fire way but it would make up part of her strategy for the season. Yes, she was going to take the money, do her job and stay in her lane – out of June and Tari’s way.
It was time to invite a fourth character to the party. Someone who had the relational capacity to ensure she became off-limits for Tari. Just any guy would not do. It had to be a guy Tari had a good relationship with, a guy who Tari would no want to cross in the event he noticed how vulnerable she was to him and decided to press his advantage. Tari didn’t have many friends. In fact, to her knowledge, he had only one. She launched her BBM and sent a message to June.
“Hi” June replied almost instantly
“Home yet?” She asked
“No, out in search of d shoes”
“Ok. promise u won’t laff.”
“I won’t laff”
“Give Dan my numba”