“We’ll just go out and chill. Somewhere close, maybe grab something to eat. No pressure.” That’s what Jumi had said when he called. He’d said we should meet for lunch tomorrow. He always took his break at one, but he was willing to move it to two so it would be convenient for me. He wanted us to talk, get to know each other a little better. No pressure.
I noticed that my chest felt kind of tight after he hung up, but not in an unpleasant way. Jumi worked in the same office building as me, two floors above mine; and after a few very tense (at least to me) shared elevator rides, he’d asked for my number. And then he’d done nothing. For months. Oh, he was always polite when he ran into me. He would smile and wave if he was far away; and if not he’d stop me, chat for a bit, ask all the usual questions. And then he’d say, “I’ll see you around”, in that tone that always made me wonder if he was asking or saying. He’d offered me a ride once, when it was raining and the staff bus had left me because I’d had to work late. He hadn’t been going my way, but he dropped me right at my doorstep and let me have the umbrella he kept in his car. Even then, there was nothing; not even the kind of look that could keep a girl hopeful. Until today. Until this call.
I placed my phone back on my bedside table and went to my tiny wardrobe. I found the dress and took it out. Holding it against my chest, the fabric tickling my skin, I smiled. No pressure? I’ll show him pressure.
I got on the staff bus the next morning wearing my short beige dress and those heels that put the ‘k’ in killer. I was a bit disappointed at the silence that met my grand entry; but to be fair, most people used the ride to the office to catch up on much needed sleep. I spotted a vacant seat next to my colleague and almost-friend, Awele. As soon as I reached her, she grabbed my arm and pulled me down onto the seat.
“Hmm. Madam, this one that you dressed like this today, what’s up now?”
“I always dress hot, abeg. There’s nothing new here,” I said, with feigned seriousness.
“Ehn, I agree. But this hotness pass hell fire,” Awele said, her voice growing louder. “Come, where are you going after work?”
“My friend, lower your voice,” I said in a harsh whisper. She held her lips between two fingers and used her eager eyes to beg for the gist. “I’m meeting that guy for lunch. That fine one I told you about, that works on the seventh floor.”
I peered at my face one last time in the restroom mirror before packing up my make up and hurrying back to my work station. At 1.58, I stood and walked out of the office. I stopped by the lunch room to tell Awele I was leaving. She wished me luck, and just as I was about to continue on my way, she called me back like somebody had just died.
“Jennifer, where are you going with those flats? Where are the heels you were wearing this morning?”
“I left them in the office. I’m meeting him at Lafayette; he said he had to go around there earlier to meet someone, so I’ll just join him. Me sef I’d thought we would drive somewhere, but since I have to walk, I better respect myself and wear flats.”
“Jennifer. Wear the heels,” Awele said, the way my grandmother said things just before she would swear on her life. That kind of certainty chilled me.
“But those shoes are painful to walk in,” I whined anyway.
“Lafayette is only like two streets away. You can manage. Is it this your fine, short dress that you want to wear flats with?”
At that point, Tari, another colleague, walked in carrying her lunch. Awele promptly enlisted her.
“Tari, abeg help me see this matter. You saw the shoes Jennifer wore to work, abi?” Tari nooded. “Okay. That one and these flats, which ones should she wear?”
“Ah, the heels now!” Tari said, looking at me like I was stupid. I wanted to rip her expensive wig off.
“You hear?” Awele said, pulling her ear lobe. “You want to make an impression? Wear those heels. I swear, he won’t forget you in a hurry.”
To be continued…
Uche Okonkwo loves a good story, whether she’s reading or writing it. She works as an editor and freelances in her spare time.