I was glad I’d worn the heels. I noted with satisfaction the stares that followed me as I strutted down the street of my office. As I walked, I imagined meeting Jumi. He would probably be doing something when I walked into wherever it was we would meet at Lafayette Mall; maybe talking on his phone, or typing something. He would glance up and see me, and he would be unable to look away. I imagined his eyes lighting up, the smile that would curve his lips.
I saw the envious looks I would get from other girls as he met me with a kiss on the cheek and told me how stunning I looked. It was a beautiful day.
As I turned into Grove Street, I felt a pinching sensation in my right foot. I tried to ignore it, but the more I walked, the worse it got. A tingling started in my left toes, and both my heels began to ache. By the time I got to Oloyede Ibrahim Street, where Lafayette Mall was located, my legs had started to wobble. I hailed a passing okada, then waved him off as I remembered I could never mount one in that dress. The okada rider bade me waka as he sped off.
I felt beads of sweat forming on my Mac-powdered face. I took out my handkerchief from my bag and dabbed gently. Pain or no pain, I would not smear my makeup. I wobbled all the way to Lafayette, gritting my teeth but still confident that the heels had been the right way to go. When I got to the doors of the mall, I stopped and took in several deep breaths. I steeled my calves by sheer willpower, smacked my lips and smoothed the fabric of my dress down over my hips. With a quick glance at my reflection in the tinted glass doors, I opened the doors and walked, head high, into Lafayette Mall. I felt my phone vibrate in my bag and took it out.
“Hi. Where are you?”
“I just walked into Lafayette. Where are you?”
“I’m right in front of Cuban Café.”
“I’ll be there in a moment.”
I ended the call, noticing absently that I could no longer feel the pain from the shoes. I smiled. Soon, Jumi. Soon. I turned right at the bookstore and saw Cuban Café ahead of me. And Jumi standing right beside the doors, hands in his pockets. In slow motion, he raised his eyes to glance up at me, and then he couldn’t look away. I saw the twinkle come into his eyes, saw them widen in wonder, saw the smile on his lips. I saw his eyes widen even further, saw his lips part, heard him scream my name as though from the depths of a well, even before I felt my ankle buckle and my body fall to the tiled floor in an untidy heap.
Awele was right. With the spectacle I’d just made of myself, there was no way Jumi would ever forget me. He helped me up and asked if I was alright. I nodded over and over, desperately brushing my weave back from my face and straightening my dress. Jumi picked up my broken shoe, took the other one off, held my hand and guided me into Cuban Café. I could feel several pairs of mocking, malicious eyes boring into my back, and I imagined their owners sticking their tongues out at me. The doorman held the door open and muttered, “Sorry, madam,” but I knew he was dying to laugh. Jumi didn’t hold back, though; even as he led me to a table, I could feel his body shaking. I was too busy licking my wounds to scold him.
After a miserable lunch, through which Jumi kept bursting into bouts of laughter, only to catch himself moments later and mumble a half-hearted apology while I glared at my food, he left me at the café to search the mall for flip flops that I could wear back to the office. He found a pretty, bright green pair and we walked to the office in a silence which was only broken by Jumi’s unsuccessful attempts to stifle his giggling. I held my shoes in the small carrier bag the flip flops had come in, my lips stiff. As we walked into the office building, Jumi stepped closer to me and rubbed my arm in a way that would have been comforting if I couldn’t still feel the sting of his laughter.
“I’m sorry about your shoes,” he said. “You looked nice, though… before…”
My throat was hot with embarrassment; I could only nod. We got onto an empty elevator and I was grateful when the doors slid shut. I just wanted to get on my floor and slither back to my work station and never see or think about Jumi again. He probably didn’t want to see me again either, and that was just fine. I sighed and blinked back tears.
“Can I call you again? See, we didn’t really get to talk, you know. With all that… happened… If it’s okay, I’d like to take you out again sometime. No pressure.”
Uche Okonkwo loves a good story, whether she’s reading or writing it. She works as an editor and freelances in her spare time.