“Matey is downstairs. At the reception I mean.”
Kojo smelt a bunch of fresh flowers, feigned inhaling the fragrance from them and smirked at Dzidzor. She was busy reviewing a proposal for the Tahil agenda. She won the CSR project of the year for them. Hope and James were tough to bring down but they gave in. Today is Friday and she intends to meet Freda at Tahil to get the project going. She took a sip of her favorite juice in the world – pineapple juice with ginger. She smiled, not willing the unpleasant news to settle. She’s got a new business to save.
“Please tell me you are saying a bad joke.”
Kojo turned and opened the note attached to the flowers.
“Spare me five minutes of your time Dzidzi, Matey.”
“Ow. There’s a pet name.”
Dzidzor walked over to her printer and studied the proposal. She watched as one more paper came out.
“Where’s the vase?”
“I have none Kojo. Drop the flower on the table and go for lunch.”
“Sacking me so you’d have time to hug and smell and coo by yourself. Alright.”
Kojo fell into a long laugh and walked over to the abandoned vase by Dzidzor’s locker. He poured water into it, dropped the bouquet nicely inside and set it on the table to the side of the door.
“I can go now.”
He smiled at Dzidzor. Her face was almost heated.
He wound off the door and hurried to his own office. He had his wife to meet at lunch. She was expecting. She went in for the scan today. He can’t wait for the news. He’s hoping for a princess he’ll adore till death does them part.
Back at her office, Dzidzor had the papers stuck neatly into a pink customized Target File. She quaffed the rest of the juice, threw the plastic cup into the bin and hurried out of the office. She is hoping to get to Tahil early for a lunch and a meeting with Freda and then make it back to the office to finish off some tasks. She picked a straying strand of hair off her face and tugged it behind her ears. Stretching her kinky hair is one of her favorite styles for a change. She decided for the stairs and put on a welcoming smile. She wouldn’t want to scare Matey away now, would she? Avoiding some five text messages, three calls and two bouquets is enough to play friendly now, feelings aside.
She jogged lightly down the stairs in her gathered bright yellow African print dress and one inch heel blue heels. She felt prettier nowadays than she has in months. She’s come to trust her mum’s wardrobe skills. She let her do all her cloth selections now. Dzidzor reached the last fleet of stairs leading to the first floor. She spotted Matey. He was on his phone, seated at the visitor’s waiting area with a plastic cup beside him. He sat as though showing up at an exs workplace is the most normal thing to do. She shook her head and hurried down to the ground floor to meet him. She will be done and over with him and drive off to Tahil. Besides being back to the office, she had a singles meeting at church. Her dad signed her up and she promised to attend; at least this once.
Dzidzor studied him. He came off as more polished and assertive.
He glanced up and stood up, stretching his hands for a handshake.
“I am told you asked after me.”
She kept her voice low and as formal as possible. They weren’t exactly friends.
“I did, in five text messages, three calls and two bouquets.”
Matey had his pleasant expression intact.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t get back.”
“Okay.” Dzidzor wished she could get into his brain. She desperately wanted to figure out what he was thinking. He wasn’t sounding hurt, desperate, nothing but himself. All these years, Matey is here acting himself – the gentleman who won her heart.
“Okay. Can we catch up over lunch?”
Dzidzor wanted to scream. What are they going to catch up over lunch – how he ran off for an uncle’s help and gladly dumped her because she wasn’t Krobo and the uncle wouldn’t hear him dating any other girl? She rather stayed calm.
She followed him to his car, intentionally got into the back and stared out the whole drive to Tahil. She doubts her food will digest over this lunch.
Tara and Sule walked into Tahil hand in hand, engrossed in their own world of friendship. Sule held out Tara’s chair for her and took his. They were seated at the spot he met Dzidzor at the first day they met. He’s taken to that spot since. Almost gives you the privilege of your own private space in a public place. Freda came to their table, forcing excitement out of her.
She waited for their orders.
“Two bowls of fufu.”
Sule offered, obviously hungry. He hadn’t realized till he sat and saw the lady at his far right busily chewing at her chicken.
“Sorry, our local dishes are finished.”
Sule felt shattered. He has craved fufu the whole morning, scouting Accra central for a new office space for Paps. He wanted to be ready by September, when his contract with Target will end and Paps will undoubtedly pull in numbers their current space on the Legon road can’t cater for. Already they were struggling to keep up with the requests dropping in daily.
“Yes please. But we have Jollof rice.” Freda offered. “Our Jollof is one of three highly requested meals.”
“Two plates of Jollof then.”
Freda walked briskly inside. She wanted to break down and cry. Her aunt and then her mum kept this business going. Tahil is a family pride. Her mum had called her to her bedside and handed her the title of ownership to the restaurant when she was drawing in her last breath. She has killed what her family did everything in their power to keep running. She didn’t even know who to go for help. She possibly can’t go to the Awoonors. She’s too ashamed to.
She came back with the food. She served Sule and Tara and left with an order for two plastic bottles of coke when they are done eating.
“Thanks for letting us talk.”
Sule looked at Tara. She nodded, already swallowing a fork full of Jollof. They had talked about her distance and his silence to her text, offered their apologies and are back to their friendship. But Sule’s gut keeps telling him Tara’s reasons weren’t true or were just partly so. She said she was having a hard time with her dad throughout that period. Something about he wanting to have the pickup her uncle sent for her – the one she’s been driving past a month currently. Her text was because she was fed up and needed to see through her emotions with someone. She understood why he didn’t reply back or never mentioned it. She would have done same. Sule had thought Tara was letting him off the hook too easily for a reason. This was unlike Tara. But he was happy they were good, scripture puts so much premium on reconciliation. In fact, the whole of the bible is about reconciliation – ours with God. He took the first bite of the chicken and relished the taste – very well spiced. He was a foodie. His tongue can make out food by just tasting it.
“So what is the next step from here.”
Tara asked her attention on her food. She was carefully cutting a chunk of meat. She put the fork with the chunk into her mouth and looked at Sule. He was swallowing.
“Keep scouting.” He replied. “September ending should see us moving to a second place. We have to be ready for Christmas too. I think Accra Central is the best location to look at. We’ll keep looking and asking around.”
“Till August ending should do.”
Sule turned his attention to his meal. There was one more thing to resolve besides getting a new office space before august ending. He has to contact Dzidzor and apologize for his bizarre behavior on the Sunday at church. He has to even if the friendship stays sour afterward.
“Are you going for Kukua’s wedding?”
Tara chewed slowly on her rice. She was getting filled up.
“Kukua is wedding?”
Sule questioned. The girl was few blocks away from his house. She has never mentioned.
“Yes. She sent the invite on the class’ facebook group.”
“Oh. That’s nice. I can’t say.”
“Alright.” Tara pushed her plate away slightly and sat back. “I can’t eat more.”
She looked at her plate, half filled with rice and chicken bones. She was a light eater, eating little many times in a day. She knew she’ll buy roasted ripe plantain when they get back to the office. She would have packed the rest on most days. Today however she didn’t want to eat Jollof a second time. It’s rice. Rice once a day is enough.
Sule added a spoonful of shito to his food. He glanced up and then saw Dzidzor walking in, a guy walking behind her. They were together. That much was clear. She saw him too. He smiled and focused on his meal. Tara saw him gaze. She looked and saw Dzidzor. She also smiled and looked at Sule’s face. His expression had gone solemn. He looked like cold water has been poured over him. Dzidzor has so much effect on him. Tara glanced in Dzidzor’s direction again. She was talking, quite carefully, with a guy seated opposite her, not even turning once in their direction. Was it because of him? Was it because she was with a guy that the air around Sule has changed cold? Any day she would have teased Sule but she won’t.
“Can we go?”
Sule was standing and looking at Tara.
“I’ll go in, pay the bill and get the bottles of coke first.”
He entered the restaurant and was soon out with the two bottles of coke. He gave Tara one.
“We should go and say hi to Dzidzor.”
He whispered to Tara. He wasn’t willing to make the situation more awkward done it appears in his mind.
Tara played along. They walked to Dzidzor’s table. She looked up at them.
Dzidzor stuttered slightly.
“Matey.” She smiled at him. “Meet Sule and Tara, my new friends.” She said the words hesitantly. “Sule and Tara meet Matey, an old friend.”
“Nice meeting you.”
The words echoed in Dzidzor’s ears as the three shook hands and Sule and Tara said a few more words and left.
“Which of the two is really the friend.”
Matey asked as Sule sped his car unto the main road.
“Both. I have to give these documents to Freda, the owner of Tahil. I’ll be back shortly.”
Dzidzor got up and entered the restaurant, catching her breath. Matey smirked as she hurried off. He saw the way Sule’s look lingered a little longer on Dzidzor. He also noticed how Dzidzor stuttered, almost flushing. Sule must be someone.
Dzidzor entered the restaurant and found Freda. She was sitting by herself at a table. She joined her, a ready smile planted on her face.
Freda wiped her face quickly. She wasn’t ready to share with anyone the despair washing across her heart. Especially not an Awoonor. Dzidzor stood by her.
“Freda.” She said softly. “We heard what has happened.”
Freda looked at her. Her expression grew from shock to gladness and settled at gloom. Dzidzor knelt and hugged her. Her impulse was working at rates she couldn’t hold herself. She let Freda clung to her till Freda was better to break off.
She said, wiping tears from her face.
Dzidzor took the seat closest by and studied her. Freda’s eyes were already developing lines under them. Her jolly personality was being swept away by the tide. Dzidzor allowed her heart share her sorrows with her and then she put the file on the table.
“Freda, Target wants to help.”
“How?” Freda let loose her tears. “He, our accountant, run away with more than three-quarters of our savings, the whole of that days sales. We are due to pay for the land rent, almost ten thousand Ghana Cedis needed to renew another 5 year contract. We can’t afford our normal expenses to feed enough customers…”
Dzidzor sympathized. She didn’t know how bad situations were till Kojo asked few employees of Tahil’s competitors in and around. Most restaurants close by have already increased their capacity to cater the hundreds of customers Tahil will be losing weekly.
Freda had calmed down. Dzidzor shoved the file gently towards her.
“First, this help is that, a help. You are expected to give nothing back to Target except of course a display of Target’s name and logo on the bill boards and ads we will run for Tahil.” Freda was listening intently. “We are doing this for our annual CSR project. I got the news, told the committee and they bought the proposal.” Dzidzor paused, hoping Freda was actually hearing her. “All the details is spelt out in the document in this file.” Dzidzor tapped on the file. “I’ll leave this with you, allow you go through and return on Monday for a good discussion.” She smiled, praying Freda was getting encouraged. “Today doesn’t seem good anyways. Matey is out there waiting for me.” Freda’s eyes grew to thrice their size in shock. Of course she knew Matey. He was the lucky guying dating the only heir to the Awoonor empire years ago before he bolted away and destroyed a love story everyone who knows the Awoonors admired.
Dzidzor nodded smiling.
“He came back from schooling. He’s a lawyer now at Kwaku’s firm.” She paused. Freda is a friend. But no one to spill details of herself and Matey to. “You know Kwaku, Kate’s husband.”
Freda nodded. Dzidzor smiled at Freda and got up.
“Please bring us two plates of fried rice. Please give me more of salad than rice, without cream.”
Freda was on her feet. Dzidzor made for the door. She looked at Freda and smiled her biggest.
“Freda.” Freda held her gaze. “Tahil will be fine.”
Freda smiled. Tahil will be fine. But will she? Every day for the past week the accountant, Mr. Duah went into hiding with the money, she’s started wondering again if she really wanted to head a restaurant. She’s been thinking what if God was giving her her only chance to sell the place and get the job she’s always wanted to do -be a nanny for kids with parents too busy to sit all day and sing them their favourite songs.
©M’afua Awo Twumwaah 2016.