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[STORY] ONLINE ROMANCE (Episode 05)

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Online Romance

Episode 05.

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‘She’s been waiting for you,’ he said before I could even say a word of greeting. The waitress who had initially welcomed me and the other male waiter stood and watched us from a distance. I was led through a door marked VIP, into another hall. Here the tables were farther spaced and divided by strategically placed giant artificial flowers, which were compact enough to protect the privacy of the occupants. There were chandeliers above each table too, giving the room a much more exquisite grandeur than the regular hall. The customers in the VIP hall were much fewer and it was quite quiet, save for the rhythm and blues track playing through the overhead speakers.
I was led to the far end of the hall; to a table at which I had already caught sight of a plump, fair lady, who I was sure couldn’t be Tricia. She arose just as I got there to reveal Tricia in all her beauty, seated with her chair against the wall. The plump lady had been covering her.
‘Ohio-re-nuan?’ She pronounced slowly, her face breaking into a smile. Her fingers caressed a half empty glass of wine on the table.
‘Tricia,’ I said, wondering if I had done the right thing coming there. The waiter who had led me to her bowed low and took his leave.
‘Meet my friend, Eki,’ Tricia said, indicating the plump lady. ‘Eki, this is my mysterious beau, Ohis.’
‘Oh, it’s nice meeting you.’ The words rolled off her tongue as they would Dr Shantel’s. Dr Shantel was a Black American neurosurgeon who worked in the same hospital as my dad. She visited us occasionally.
‘It’s nice meeting you, too,’ I answered, finding my voice suddenly unsteady. It wasn’t unusual, my voice always went that way when meeting ladies for the first time – especially when there was a romantic undertone. I shook hands with Eki, perceiving a whiff of her perfume in the process. It was gentle and, I was sure, expensive. Everything in that hall, except me, seemed expensive.
‘Please, sit down,’ Eki indicated the chair she had just vacated. ‘I’ll see you later, dearie,’ she said to Tricia.
‘Not before you give me a hug!’ Tricia said sharply as I was about to sit on the chair. Then, she waved at Eki who was already walking away.
Obediently, I went to hug her, remaining stooped until she agreed to release her grip on me. Her perfume was cool, too; its fruity fragrance seemed to fill my tummy. She hadn’t budged from her chair since my arrival. I went to take my seat.
‘We finally meet,’ she said when I was seated, ‘and I’m not disappointed at all. You are much more handsome from close range.’
‘And you are very beautiful, yourself,’ I replied sincerely. My voice was no longer unsteady.
‘Thanks, dearie,’ and she chuckled. ‘What will you take, now that you are here?’
‘I don’t think I want to take anything,’ I replied, despite the tantalizing aroma of exotic foods that pervaded the entire hall.’
‘No, I won’t take that from you. If you aren’t telling me what you would eat, I would order on your behalf.’
I shrugged in acceptance. My initial rejection of her offer hadn’t been wholehearted anyway. I was sure the worms in my stomach were already jumping around in anticipation of a delicious meal.
‘Kehinde, come over!’ Tricia called, beckoning to a waitress who obediently came and squatted beside her. The waitress left after some whispered conversation between them. She was beautiful too. ‘Once again, you are welcome to Grassland Chops, I’m sure this is your first time here?’
‘Yea,’ I nodded slowly. A waiter walked past us and bowed in greeting to her. ‘It is a beautiful place.’
‘I’m glad you like it.’ She took a sip from her glass, then glanced at my face suddenly, catching my eyes which were too slow in darting away. ‘Care for some?’
‘Oh no, thanks,’ I replied quickly. I had thought I would be in charge whenever we met, but the reverse was being the case. I was unable to assert my manliness, now in front of her, something I had done so often on phone.
‘I never thought you were this shy and…’ She stressed the last word before pausing.
‘And what?’ I asked, trying unsuccessfully to bolster up myself. At least, my voice was back, my wits had to follow.
‘And handsome,’ she said, after a chuckle. I swallowed hard, but didn’t say a thing.
I wished the words would come, the lines that were so often used in movies depicting similar scenes. I tried to recollect some of such movies I had watched in the past, but couldn’t come up with anything. My brain was unusually blank, Tricia was having much more of an effect than I expected on me. Or was it the environment? I was brought back to reality when I felt her soft palm on the back of my hand on the table. I hadn’t even seen it coming. I stylishly shook off her hand, pretending to pick something on my face.
‘What are you thinking about, my love?’ Her voice was softer now, it was more familiar too.
I had no answer to her question, at least not one I would have loved her to know about. Where was Kehinde? Where was the delicious meal she was serving? I heard some approaching footsteps behind me and looked back, they were Kehinde’s. I sighed in relief and adjusted a bit on my chair.
‘You haven’t told me what you are thinking about, my love,’ Tricia cooed, her eyes darting between my face and the approaching waitress.
‘I was thinking about something that happened at home this morning, something my dad said about my sister.’ The ease with which the lie came off my lips surprised even me. I hadn’t preconceived it at all.
‘Is it something you may wanna share?’ She looked directly into my eyes, forcing me to blink away.
‘No, I would rather protect the privacy of the person involved; you know it’s not me in question?’
‘I understand, dearie,’ she said, just as Kehinde arrived our table to set down the tray. Kehinde shot at me a glance which made me wish Tricia would, at least, stop talking until she was gone. It was a vain wish. ‘You are just the kind of man I would like to have as a husband…’
Why was she saying this in the presence of a third party? Couldn’t it wait until Kehinde was through with setting the table? I knew Kehinde was listening to our conversation, despite her indifferent demeanour. I could bet she wasn’t going about her task as quickly as she could. Wasn’t it obvious to Tricia that she was trying to buy time with her extremely careful removal of the dishes, glass and bottle from the tray before placing them on the table? It was.
‘Will you be done and go do other things?’ Tricia suddenly snapped. It was a tone I had never heard her use before. Kehinde was done in a few seconds and scampered off to the main hall. ‘Sorry, dear,’ Tricia beamed, facing me. ‘Do you know that she was eavesdropping on us?’
‘Huh?’ I feigned ignorance.
‘Yes, she was and she thought I was too daft to notice!’
I noticed the venom in her voice and shook my head; Tricia would be a difficult lady. She would be like one of our lecturers who was rumoured to control her husband, by the students close to her. She spoke like the woman when offended, a masculine metal vicious edge replacing the hitherto sweet feminine tone of her voice.
‘We all like some gossip once in a while,’ I said. It was easier to talk when the topic was about someone else.
She chuckled and pointed at the covered dishes before me, on the table. ‘The table is set, please eat.’
It was an invitation I had been waiting for. I opened the bigger dish to reveal very rich looking fried rice. It was unsurprising that their food was reputedly expensive. The quantity of liver cuttings in the rice could compete with the rice grains themselves. The rice smelled real good. I opened the smaller dish to reveal chunky meat pieces. I wasn’t so greedy as to eat so much meat and rice, I wasn’t even actually hungry. I looked up to meet Tricia’s eyes on mine. She smiled, helped open the bottle of wine and poured from it into a glass. I muttered my thanks and picked a spoon.
‘Won’t you pray before eating?’ She asked. I instantly halted the movement of my hand to the dish.
Her smile showed that she had probably intended the statement as a joke, but it was a timely intervention as I hadn’t intended to pray initially. Why was I so uncontrolled in her presence? It was very unlike me to be like that.
‘I was about to do that,’ I lied, suspending my hand just above the dish and lifting up my second hand to join it in that position. I knew it was an unusual posture for praying over a personal meal, but had I been normal since I stepped into Grassland Chops? I closed my eyes and said some words of prayer – much longer than I would, normally.
‘I didn’t know you were a Pastor,’ said Tricia after a loud “amen” at the end of my prayers. She hadn’t closed her eyes when I did; I knew that from the clarity of her stare when I opened my own eyes.
‘I am an ordinary student,’ I told her, ‘an ordinary student like you.’
‘That’s okay, babe, I know you are only being modest. Now, eat.’
I scooped some rice with the spoon and slowly lifted its contents into my mouth; I was careful to allow no contact between my teeth and the metal spoon, I would have been very embarrassed had that happened. The food tasted good. As I chewed slowly, ensuring my mouth was shut in the process, my eyes scanned the hall. How had I come to be there that moment? It was way beyond my league. It wasn’t like I couldn’t have afforded a meal there, but I hated extravagance, even when the money involved wasn’t mine. Tricia’s eyes were on me the whole time; was she observing my table manners? Was she trying to see if I had class? Why the intent stare, like she was trying to count the sweat pores on my face? My phone rang that moment, breaking into my thoughts. Her hand reached for my breast pocket where the phone was, but I was quicker in getting it. Why did she want to get my phone, wasn’t that an invasion of my privacy?
‘Oh, so you make calls while eating?’ She said as if in response to my thoughts. ‘Men and their funny habits; my dad does same.’
Was she a learner? What was wrong with answering a call while eating? My dad, in particular, did it all the time – it could be to inform him of an emergency, he would be quick to explain. The caller was Ola and I lost my appetite. I had barely taken five spoons.
Why was I so affected by her calls? Why didn’t Tricia’s calls make me feel same way? I no longer felt the excitement I used to get from her calls; I now felt a kind of trepidation, the type someone felt when he knew he was heading into danger yet was powerless to halt his advance.
‘You are not answering your call?’ Tricia said, seeing my lost glance at the phone screen. ‘Hope nothing is wrong?’

I shook my head, switched off the phone once it stopped ringing, returned it to my breast pocket and resumed eating. She repeated her question, but I pointed at my mouth in reply. The food was now tasteless. I scooped a few more spoonfuls and placed the spoon beside the plate. I hadn’t touched the meat pieces.

To Be Continued… . . .


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