Our Beautiful Angels EPISODE 2
Desola let her face curl into a smile. She had missed Femi, her on and off boyfriend of seven months.
“I am seeing someone, Desola. I am seeing a girl that I have sort of fallen for”
Femi’s words knifed her hopes : her fantasies of a fairy tale wedding, a wedding night and the two children she pictured them with.
She reassured herself that she had heard him wrong. It was past five and they were standing in front of Naija Spice restaurant on one of the busiest roads in Stratford, Desola could barely hear him above the cars. Commuters heading to the train station were pushing past them on the pavement.
“I don’t understand you Femi” Desola asked him with the spongiest tone she could muster. Inside her head, she heard a banshee-like scream of No, this is not happening. Having lost her temping job as a sales assistant that afternoon she hadn’t bargained on her day getting worse. When Femi sent her a text message at four letting her know he was in the Miles End area and that he could give her, a lift back to Stratford, she had beamed, hoping that his message meant he was ready to give their almost deceased relationship another go.
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He barely said two words to her in the car. At some point he turned up the car radio to Dbanj’s Oliver twist as she tried to explain she was heading to her second job as a waiter at Naija Spice and that they could talk later. When he got out of the car and offered to walk with her to Naija Spice, she had suspected something was seriously wrong.
“Babe, we broke up like a week ago because you messed up. I have moved on. I am only telling you because my new girlfriend attends the same church as you and I don’t want you to find out from someone else’’
Femi starred down the road. His phone was in his right palm. His left hand fidgeted about, drawing unseen objects in the air with his fingers. His legs were restless as if they would rather be crossing the road, away from the girl that had been his girlfriend for seven months.
“I thought you just needed some space. That was what you said Femi” Desola said. She saw him glare now. His neck was half twisted towards the road: as if he was telling her again that he had moved on. She pushed the door of Naija Spice open with the back of her hand, because she wanted to walk away with her dignity still intact. Standing outside without a jacket in a not so favourable weather holding a Sainsbury’s carrier bag and a half decent high street summer sale bag, talking to a man that was more interested in the cars on the road, she knew, was almost as ghastly as begging him on her knees.
Inside Naija Spice, the two tables close to the front of the restaurant were occupied by a family. The mother and father occupied the table on the right with a young girl of around two years old. The child’s tiny braids were wrapped round a chicken drumstick she was sucking on. The rest of the family- two skinny teenage boys and a younger girl in school uniform – were sat round the table that faced the entrance of the staff room, tucking into plates of jolof rice, moi moi and turkey. The other two tables in the restaurant were unoccupied which wasn’t unusual as eighty per cent of Naija Spice custom derives from domestic takeaways orders and social gathering catering.
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Desola noticed Richard by the till taking down orders from a man in navy blue security uniform. Richard’s shirt sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, but his shirt was still neatly tucked into his black trousers. She guessed he had come straight from work and wondered where his father was. She went straight into the staff room. Files and invoices dotted the desk Pastor John usually worked on. His son, Richard often came in to do the restaurant’s books. A red patterned tie and a tan leather jacket hung loosely on the only chair in the room. She retrieved her apron and poky white hat from her Sainsbury’s bag before dumping the bags on the new freezer that Pastor John purchased the week before to replace the old one in the kitchen- that stayed more off than on. Richard walked in without knocking. Desola noticed. He usually knocked.
“I am so sorry I am late. Is Pastor not in today? How is Junior …and the twins …
Desola’s questions died in her throat when she noticed his vacant disinterested eyes. He went to the desk and picked up a pile of papers previously discarded on a corner of the table and walked to the shredder with his back turned to her. She hadn’t noticed how tall he was before now. She saw him every Sunday at Our Angels church but whilst she helped out with the children in Sunday school, he assisted his father in the adult church with the deputy pastor. Although, Richard commanded equal level of respect from the church members as his father, he always had a pleasant smile plastered on his face whenever he saw a church member. This was why Desola wanted to clear the air, now heavy with tension.
“I am sorry Uncle Richard’’ The younger people in church preferred the term uncle whilst older adults tended to call him junior pastor
“Just get to work Desola. Someone needs to mind the till”
He heard her leave the room and sighed. Richard had had enough of women like his wife with their perfect behaviour and pious ways, yet with secrets grave enough to wipe out a whole nation. He used to grin with pride whenever people praised the good character of his wife. The same people have applauded Desola’s values in church, likening her virtues to his wife’s. He wondered what these church members would have said if they had seen the holy sister Desola with her rapper look-a-like boyfriend with jeans that showed his underwear rather than cover them.
Richard heard his phone start ringing; he ignored it, knowing his wife was at the other end. He hadn’t seen her since Monday morning, when he learnt that their fifteen year old son might not be his. He had not seen his children, since the same day either; when he dropped them off at his parent’s house after school.
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Desola focused on the mopping of the floor because she knew her friend Ife had had enough of her talking about her pitiable relationship. But glaring at the strands of the mop stick as they tucked into corners did not help her answer the questions in her head.
“Desola, it is ten’ o clock and you haven’t finished mopping this floor. Uncle Richard is going to want to lock up soon”
Desola saw that Ife now had her bag in her hands, ready to go. She had taken off her apron and chef’s hat. An air of urgency and irritation sat around her.“I just want to know who my boyfriend is seeing. He says it is a sister from Our Angels church. I deserve to know who it is Ife. You know everyone in church. You are in the choir; please just tell me who it is, if you know’’
Desola did not hide the desperation in her voice. She had known Ife for a few years. They were the type of friends who braided their hair at the same hairdresser’s and shopped in the same supermarket.
“Desola, please stop this. You are better than this. Besides, you and he had already broken up’’ Ife started to head for the door.
“Ife, I know this is the end for us but I deserve to know who he is now seeing; when it is someone I am going to be seeing in church every Sunday. Wouldn’t you want to know if you were me’’ Desola’s eyes stayed on Ife. She saw her friend stop by the door before turning round.
“It is me Desola. I am the one Femi is seeing. We are planning to go to Nigeria together this Christmas, so, yeah it is serious between us. I hope oneday you can forgive us’’ With that, Ife stepped into the cold night.
Richard’s lips flung open as soon as he heard the door open. He knew it was Desola because the driver left at nine after doing his last delivery for the night and his sister-in-law, Ife had shortly come in to say goodnight. The poor girl enquired if he wanted her to deliver any messages to his wife, to which Richard had replied coldly, “No, I have a phone Ife”
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“I am sorry Desola” Richard began as Desola walked in. “I am just having a terrible time…..” Richard stopped when he saw Desola’s face. She looked as if she had been crying. He leapt out of the chair and moved towards her where she stood by the new freezer starring at her bags as if she had forgotten how to pick them up.
“I am sorry. Are you upset because of me? Please, don’t be Desola.’’
She found the words to tell him what she had found out. Her words came out slowly like snow drifting towards the ground, as if she was still trying to gather what had happened herself.
“If a guy does that to you, he doesn’t deserve you. But Ife is your friend.’’ His voice was rough.
“I just want to know what I am supposed to do now. I don’t want to loose our friendship. Technically, Femi and I were not together, so …he didn’t cheat on me” Desola added quickly, keen not to get her friend in trouble with her brother-in-law. “I don’t want to loose my friendship with Ife. Do you think I should call her, so we can talk?
Desola looked up into Richard’s intense eyes. At six foot three, he towered above her by a few inches. He stood tall. Big, strong: oozing utter manliness. The sort of manliness she had only read about in chick lit novels. Perhaps this was how young females felt with older male relatives. She had never had that before and at that moment she felt the need for a shoulder to lean on. He noticed the sparkle of her eyes; brown eyes that gleamed in the dimly lit staff room and yet seemed to be pleading with him.
Her skin was dark. But not luridly dark, more dark chocolate, perfectly accentuated by her eyes. There was something innocent about the way she looked at him. Richard suddenly felt the urge to protect her, to wrap his own experience with the world around hers, so she stopped trusting people explicitly like he once did. He had never really looked at any woman other than his wife before now. He found himself wondering if he had paid Desola attention in the past quickly muted by his morals. Under her work apron, casual top and jeans, he imagined she had the hourglass physique he knew his wife still had, despite having had three children. He blocked thoughts of his wife from his mind as he started to wonder what it would feel like if he kissed her.