A rose by any other name, p.3
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       A Rose by Any Other Name, p.3

           Nia Eze
 
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  Jude angrily tossed the newspaper he had been reading and stalked off into the inner recesses of the house.

  Keira sighed. It used to be that she and Jude could talk for days about practically anything. She tried to track how that had changed in her mind. Barely two years into her marriage, and both of them could hardly have a conversation without one or both of them snapping at each other.

  “What’s for dinner?” Jude asked from the doorway to the kitchen.

  Keira looked up at him and felt the tears sting her eyes. He was still her handsome beau. He was no longer the gangly youth that she had met when he was seventeen and she just turning thirteen. He had matured into a handsome man who still had her stomach in knots just looking at him. Her handsome man, who right now was looking blandly at her.

  “What would you like to eat?” she asked.

  Jude sighed as he turned to walk back into the kitchen. Keira got up and followed him watching as he rummaged through the fridge.

  “What would you like to eat?” she repeated calmly even as her heart cracked.

  “What’s there to eat in this house?” he asked sarcastically, the caustic tone like acid on Keira’s wounded spirit.

  “There’s soup. And I think there’s a little stew from dinner yesterday. We could do either of them?” she suggested.

  “Hm! Don’t feel like any of that.” Jude slammed the door of the fridge shut. “What else?” he demanded as he turned to her, pack of juice in hand. He opened the cap and began drinking straight out of the pack. Keira winced. She had been saving that pack for later. It wasn’t even a particular favourite of Jude’s. She wondered if he was drinking from it just to get back at her.

  ‘For what?!!’ her mind exploded. Was she not entitled to an opinion anymore? It used to be that Jude would talk things over with her before making some key decisions back when they had been dating. Did their being married mean that the dynamics of their relationship had to change?

  “Maybe jollof rice with that tomato and beef sauce thing you do so well.” he said.

  It was Keira’s turn to sigh. “I’m not sure I have everything to make it.” She answered as she went to the freezer chest off to the side of the kitchen to check its content.

  “Mama Risi would still be open.” Jude suggested. “You can pick a few things from her and we should be good.”

  Keira forced herself to breath in and out calmly. It had been unusually warm today and she had been looking forward to soaking in the tub all that afternoon as she had attended to her customers in the oppressive heat of the day. The air conditioning in her shop had seemingly given up the battle against constantly swinging front doors that let in air that had been heated up by temperatures outside. She had planned to rush straight to the bathroom but had been side-tracked by Jude lounging in the living room and had stopped to talk to him.

  She straightened up from the freezer chest, closing its top quietly even as she snagged a shopping bag off the hook where she kept them.

  “Let me go sort that out now.” She said quietly. “I’ll be back soon.” She made to walk out the back door when Jude called out, already going back to the living room.

  “Please help me get another pack of juice or make that two. I’ll give you back the money when you get back. My wallet is in the bedroom.”

  Keira stood stock still and willed herself to calm down.

  “Don’t bother!” she called out in a syrupy sweet voice through gritted teeth. “I’ll just get it though.” And she slammed the door loudly on her way out.

  CHAPTER 6

  “She’s a married woman Majid!” Agnus slapped his two hands together agitatedly to buttress his point.

  “I know!” Majid replied, a quirky smile on his face. “She…alright. I know she’s married right. But she’s so…not exactly unhappy, just wound up. It can’t be good for her. And that husband of hers!” he held out his hand to ward off Agnus complaint. “No offense. I mean the guy is brilliant and all that but we both know that doesn’t mean he knows what to do with his wife.”

  “And you know it better than him?” Agnus scoffed. He raked his hand through his closely shaved scalp in agitation. “If you weren’t my friend, I’d give you the trouncing you deserve right now.”

  “I haven’t done anything.” Majid started categorically.

  “But I know you! You have a bee in your bonnet over this lady.”

  Majid shook his head in the negative. Agnus scoffed his disbelief.

  “Even if this guy is having issues with his wife, marriage is an intricate thing between a man and his wife. Leave them be to work things out for themselves. In fact, focus on finding a wife for yourself instead!” Agnus scolded.

  “What’s this?” Majid exclaimed. “Do you think it is for lack of candidates that I haven’t gotten married?”

  “More like an oversupply of candidates!”Agnus scoffed as he picked up the television remote and began to surf through the channels available.

  “Why are we arguing about this?” Majid questioned half rhetorically.

  Agnus ignored him and continued surfing through the channels. Majid sighed and picked up his phone. He scrolled through his contact list to a number he had stored there a few months ago.

  “You know, I met her just before she got married.” He said out of the blues.

  Agnus paused in his task of channel surfing and cocked his head to an interested position. When it was apparent that Majid was not forthcoming with more information, he prodded.

  “Did you guys…have a fling or something?”

  Majid eyed him, “A fling?” he queried in an offended tone.

  “Yes, a fling.” Agnus reiterated. “Why are you acting offended? Can you remember how many ‘flings’ you’ve had?”

  “I wouldn’t have had a fling with her.” Majid refuted. “She isn’t that sort of girl.”

  “Old habits die hard Mahj.” Agnus’ concentration returned to the television.

  Majid returned his phone to his pocket and turned his listless attention to what Agnus was doing.

  “Do you believe in fate?” he asked Agnus. Agnus rolled his eyes as he finally switched off the television and turned his full attention to his friend.

  “You. Are. Kidding. Me.” He said

  Majid just kept looking at him steadily.

  “Mahj snap out of it! It is not even amusing. Come on!”

  “Maybe, maybe if I hadn’t lost her card and had been in touch with her then, maybe she would have reviewed her options.”

  “Mahj are you listening to yourself? Maybe…maybe… Mahj she is married. Period. No time for these maybes. Have you even wondered that maybe Fate was saving you from disaster?” Agnus hissed out his scorn of Majid’s philosophy.

  Majid continued to stare at the blank space in front of him.

  “She’s not happy with him.” he said lowly, more to himself than to his friend.

  “You are looking for an excuse.” Agnus blasted. “Usually, I admire you compulsive obsessive streak. It does get things done with amazing thoroughness but this here is the downside. You never know when to pull back! Mahj trust me, this needs pulling back.”

  Majid turned an amused gaze to him. “When did you do a specialization in psychiatry?” he asked jokingly.

  Agnus sighed. “You are going to do this aren’t you?” he asked despairingly.

  “Just to be sure she’s okay.” Majid answered.

  “Will it help if I said she’s okay?”

  Majid laughingly rebuked him with a look.

  Agnus took a deep breath. “I guess we are going to do this.” He said.

  “We?” Majid enquired.

  Agnus turned to him with the same look of rebuke.

  Majid nodded. “We.”

  CHAPTER 7

  Keira turned over the embossed card in her hand trying to make sense of it.

  “You say it was delivered by hand?” she asked Funke, her head shop girl again.

  “Yes ma. Just before you entered.
You might have seen him on your way in.”

  Keira turned the card again. It was an invitation to a prestigious business men forum. She knew of it because Jude’s firm was one of the sponsors for the annual event this year. He was not even invited because only the directors of the firm had been invited.

  She walked off to her corner and took her seat still looking at the card. She pulled out her cell phone and put a call through to Jude.

  “Dear have you got a minute?” she asked as soon as he picked the call.

  “Ah…okay shoot.” Jude responded.

  “Thanks. I got the invitation card. How did you manage that?” she smiled

  “Manage what?”Jude asked.

  “The invitation to the Forum. I just got it here at my shop.” There was no response from Jude.

  “Jude?” Keira called. She heard him talking to someone in the background for a few moments and then he came back on line.

  “Keira, you say an invite was sent to you?” he asked.

  “Yes. It didn’t come from your office?” she asked.

  “No. I just asked Eni and he says your business was not on our list of invitees.”

  “Oh.” Keira was puzzled. “So…who else would send me one?”

  “Well. Perhaps your business is more popular than you think it is.” He quipped.

  Keira was quiet for a moment. “I didn’t think it was popularity that earned you an invite.” She began. “I thought I heard it said that there was a minimum balance sheet figure.”

  “Except you have a sponsor, a benefactor which apparently you have?” he ended in a questioning tone.

  “I have no idea who could have sent me this.” Keira said. “I actually thought it was you.”

  “Nope. Not me.” Jude responded.

  “That’s surprising. I can’t think of anyone.” Keira puzzled. “Alright, a customer just walked in. Let me call you back.” She said as she clicked off the phone.

  Keira was not in a good mood when she walked into the grand salon of The Majestic that afternoon. She showed her invitation to the man at the registration point and was asked to sign in her name and the business she was representing on a register open on the desk in front of him. When she had signed, he gave her a tote bag filled with notebooks, CDs and other supplies that she would need to successfully participate in the forum. Keira smiled her thanks and walked into the grand hall to look for her business’ name card among the nicely decorated tables.

  She surreptitiously eyed the other participants as they went about their activities, greeting each other cheerfully. Her anger at Jude surged anew. She had wanted him to attend the event with her because her invitation had allowed for a guest. He had turned down her invitation claiming he had to be at the office. A couple of hours after he had left, she had received a call from Eni asking for him. According to him, he had been trying to get through to Jude but his cell phone had been going straight to voice mail. Keira had said Jude was at the office to which Eni had sounded perplexed. After getting off the phone with Eni, Keira had placed a call to Jude which he had picked almost on the first ring.

  “Babe, are you still at the office?” she had asked.

  There was silence on the line for a moment.

  “Why? Is anything the matter?” Jude asked coolly.

  “Eni called asking for you. He says you were not picking his call.”Keira said. “He sounded somewhat confused when I told him you were at work.”

  There was nothing again on the line. Keira waited a heartbeat and then continued. “Just said to give you a heads up.”

  “Thanks.” was Jude’s abrupt response.

  “I’m about to get dressed. I wish you had been able to come.” Keira complained.

  “Well, I wasn’t invited.” Jude said with snidely.

  Keira had been taken aback. “But Jude…”

  “It was you invited not me.” He corrected in rushed tones. “Anyway, I’ve got to go.” He continued and then added in what seemed like an afterthought, “Have fun.”

  And just like that he had clicked off.

  Keira came back to the present with a small shake as her eyes alighted on her name, not her business name on a table. She worked her way towards the table, a little surprised because it seemed to be a larger table. She doubted that had she brought all her staff at the shop, all the seats would have been occupied. As she pulled out her chair, she peered at the other name cards on the table and tried to see what was written on the central one that was facing away from her.

  The card immediately to her right read ‘Rilwan M. M.’ Keira gasped her surprise. Surely it could not be a coincidence as she looked at the card to her left. It was a name that she did not recognize. She took her seat a frown of consternation gathering on her forehead.

  “A pretty head like yours shouldn’t wear such a frown. You’ll give yourself wrinkles.” came the teasing rebuke from her right. Keira took a deep breath and exhaled noisily.

  “So it was you who sent the invite.” She said.

  “If you mean the one to this event,” Majid stretched his hand to retrieve a bottle of still water from the table, “Then yes! I sent it. Were you excited to receive it?” he asked.

  “Mr. Majid, I don’t…”

  “Majid, just Majid. I thought we had become acquainted enough for us to drop the appellations.”

  Keira shook her head hoping and praying for patience.

  “Mr….Majid,” she corrected at his tut-tut. “Majid, what are you doing?” she asked in confusion.

  “Giving a friend a leg up.” He quipped.

  “A leg up?” she asked like an automated parrot.

  Majid cocked an eyebrow as if to say ‘You’re not dense, I know.’

  “Majid, I really appreciate that but…”

  “But what Keira?” At Keira’s surprised look “Of course I know your name.” he continued. “You told me remember? On that first afternoon.” Majid continued.

  “Majid, what are you about?” She asked exasperatedly.

  Majid opened the bottle of water and took a long drag from it. He turned to look at her watching him, waiting for a response.

  “I’m just helping out a friend. This is a great place to network. Think corporate gifts for any one of these names. Think opportunities to expand your service base. Think…”

  “Majid?” Keira interrupted. “I appreciate it. Really I do but that’s not what I asked and you know it.”

  Majid shrugged with an affected guileless expression.

  “Did you come on your own?” he asked.

  “Did you expect someone to come with me?” Keira challenged still staring him down. She saw the beginning of a smile form on his lips.

  “I imagined your husband might show up with you.” Majid replied.

  Keira looked again at the seat to her left and no, it was not Jude’s name on the card.

  “Really?” she asked him. Her only response from him was an even wider smile. Keira turned away from him in exasperation and concentrated on the stage as the moderators welcomed the participants to the forum.

  CHAPTER 8

  She began chuckling again as she reviewed the trade bills that had come in that morning.

  Funke cut her a side glance but decided to continue with the task of displaying new stock items on the shelf. While it was a good thing to see madam in such high spirits, she could not help but be alarmed by it too.

  She had overheard snippets from madam’s conversation on the phone with her husband and it had been rather tense. But unlike times past when that was a sure bet that madam’s mood would deteriorate as the day went on, here she was giggling to herself. And the text messages that kept a steady flow all day. How did she know? The message alert on madam’s phone had been going off like crazy. And madam would look at the phone with a conflicted expression on her face and then she would pick it and scroll through. Her reaction had so far ranged from a small smile to hysterical laughter. Only once had she gasped in what sounded like outrage and she had
immediately sent off a message. The phone had pinged not long after and madam had grabbed it. When she had read the response, she had smiled wryly and shook her head.

  Funke watched all this with fascination out of the corner of her eyes. She did not know what to make of it but her gut feeling was that it could not be good. Why? Her rational brain questioned. She had no response to that. Just the bone deep certainty that there were storm clouds hovering. She wondered just what size of umbrellas they would need.

  “Funke.” Keira called out as she made to pick up her bag, “Please lock up the shop today. I need to step out for an appointment and I am not sure I’ll be back before we close.” She said.

  “Yes ma.” Funke answered continuing with her task.

  Keira picked up her car keys and her phone from the small table she had had put in her corner and walked out into the bright sunlight. As she made her way to the car, something niggled at her heart. She tried to place her finger on why she was feeling so uncomfortable but could not. It seemed there was a gauzy film blocking her eyes from seeing clearly something that was on the other side. She shook off the discomfort as she reached her car. Just as she was about to get in it, her cell phone began ringing. Keira dug through her bag for it finally locating it somewhere at the bottom.

  “Hello?” she answered hurriedly fearing that the call would be dropped.

  “Hello.” Jude replied. Keira felt her sense of exhilaration deflate. They had been bickering since she returned from the forum on Saturday. It had been a very tense three days and finally, she was done with it. If he was calling her to light into her about something or the other, she quite frankly was going to drop the phone on him.

  “Are you on your way out?” he asked.

  Keira looked around suspiciously wondering if he was somewhere nearby spying on her.

  “Yes. How did you know?” she enquired.

  “I can hear street sounds.” He said.

  “Oh.” Keira responded. She got into the car and gunned it to life. “Was there something you wanted?” her voice came out sharper than she would have wanted.

  “Not really. I…never mind. How’s your day going?”

  “It’s fine.” Keira replied.

  “Alright. I’m about to go see a prospective client. Wish me well.”

  Keira smiled wryly. So he wasn’t going to say anything.

  “Best wishes Jude. Go get them.” She said as she clicked off her phone and tossed into her handbag which she tossed to the floor of the car on the passenger’s side. She checked her mirrors and proceeded to zoom off. She had less than twenty five minutes to make a thirty minutes trip to the side of town where she was meeting prospective customers that she had met through the forum on Saturday. She smiled again as the memory of how Majid had ‘managed’ the introduction for her crossed her mind.

 
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