“I JUST CAN’T BELIEVE you are bullying me into going with you.” Elizabeth grumbled behind Tonye, making faces at his back as they marched into the living room.
He’d won the Scrabble game of course and was now using boss-card to make her go with him to Calel Graphics and Print Limited, the mischief-making devil.
“I’m not bullying you, Eliza. I just gave you an order… like a boss.”
Tonye laughed at her narrowed glare.
“Besides you should think of it as your charitable contribution to this year’s Youth Congress.”
“I’m making a monetary charitable contribution already.” She snapped laying down her handbag on the dining table to centre her skirt.
“And now you get to make a much more personal contribution – the sacrifice of your time and your person. Think how proud God will be?” He gave her a cheerful wink and strolled over to sink into the leather sofa.
“What are you two squabbling about?” Evelyn took her eyes briefly from the home video she was watching to frown at her son.
“Mamma mia, squabble is a word you use for toddlers.” Tonye corrected with a playful poke at her side. “We are arguing.”
Evelyn wriggled and slapped his hand off. “So what are you two arguing about?”
“He’s forcing me to go with him to the Printers firm Deacon Abiye asked him to go make enquiries in.” Elizabeth pouted coming to stand beside them.
“I won the Scrabble game on Wednesday night.” Tonye stated simply.
“Ah, I see. And now you are her oga kpatakpata, abi?” Evelyn nodded her head. “So, why are you protesting?” She asked her daughter. “You two made those rules yourselves.”
“He actually made the rules.” Elizabeth replied sulkily. “I just agreed to them.”
“And now you have to abide by them.” Evelyn retorted bluntly. “So, off with you two. I want to finish my movie in peace and quiet.”
Tonye leaned over to give her a quick kiss on the cheek. “You are the wisest mother I know. It’s no wonder I turned out so wise.” He flashed his sister a wink as he brushed to his feet. “Come along subordinate, we’ve got a meeting to catch up with.”
Elizabeth muttered something under her breath before bending over to give her mother a hug, then shuffled after him.
“How do you know they’d be working today? It’s a Saturday for heaven’s sake.” She demanded as he waited for her to step out before going through the front door and shutting it.
“It’s a Printing firm Eliza, they work Mondays to Saturdays and even Sundays if need be. Besides I called the Receptionist and she assured me they were working today and the Manager would be in office too.” He winked. “Isn’t that nice?”
She gave him a baleful stare before opening the black pedestrian gate and stepping through it. He grinned as he followed her, deciding today was really going to be fun.
“Who is this lady my godson has been enthusing about?” Austin asked looking over Caleb’s shoulders as he worked on his laptop.
“It’s his new class teacher.”
“Really? Wow! I heard she’s very beautiful with pretty eyes and an angel voice.” Austin chuckled. “I’m guessing she must be quite the singer.”
“I wouldn’t know. I haven’t heard her sing.”
“Hmm.” Austin eyed him. “But you have met her… as I was told. So is she beautiful with pretty eyes?”
Caleb paused to stare at the CorelDraw design he was creating, this was exactly why he preferred working in private, too many distractions otherwise. He sighed and swung his swivel chair around beckoning on the dark, burly man in black short-sleeved cotton shirt over blue jeans trousers to move backward.
He eyed his best friend with his impressive broad-shouldered, robust and hefty size. It was the impressive size of course added to his public-speaking prowess that made it easy for him to stand in front of thousands of people every now and then and get them to believe in his success theories as a Motivational Speaker and Entrepreneur.
“Austin…” he pronounced the name slowly, “I have had the pleasure of meeting Miss Elizabeth as my son’s teacher. But her physical appearance – whatever it is like – is no business of mine and completely holds no interest for me.”
Austin looked at his angled serious face and shook his head. “That is the saddest thing I ever heard a man say of a woman in all my life.”
“How unfortunate for you then.” Caleb said dryly turning back to his laptop.
Austin sighed and walked over to sink his long bulky length into the chair in front of the desk. “Cal, I know you hate to hear this…”
“Then don’t say it.”
“… but Elo has been dead for a little over four years now.”
His fingers stopped their tapping and just lay lifeless on the keyboard. “I know how long she’s been dead, Austin. She’s my wife and…”
“Was your wife.”
He gave him a stony stare. “And I was in that car with her when she died… driving the car that killed her. So the time and location of her death is forever engraved in my heart.”
Austin stared at him with astonished eyes. “Jesus Caleb! Don’t tell me you still hold yourself responsible for that accident?”
Caleb drew in a ragged breath. Of course he didn’t… not so much… these days.
“No, I don’t. I understand that it was an accident and there was absolutely nothing I could have done then or can do now to erase that accident and bring her back.” He raised his fingers to his eyes and pressed them hard. “She’s gone… forever. And that is God’s own truth.”
“And His will.” Austin focused earnest eyes on him. “You must know that.”
“Then you must also know that life must go on. Caleb, you have to go on living.”
“I am living.” He gave a small laugh when he only shook his head. “I am living for my kids. My only focus in life now is to bring up, the best way I can, the kids Elo left in my care.”
“That is not living, Caleb. That is existing.”
Caleb chuckled. “And that there is one of your semantics crap talk.”
“You are going into a rot, Cal. A man was not biologically created to live without satisfying his sexual needs.”
“Tell that to the Monk who lives in seclusion yearly.” Caleb smirked.
“You may make fun, Cal, but you’ve got needs and at some point you’ve got to satisfy them.” Austin leaned his hand on the desk and watched him as he worked away on the laptop a sneering smile on his lips. “And Cal, you are not the any-woman-one-night-stand-easy-come-easy-go kind of guy.”
Caleb raised his head to gape at him. “How do you coin these words and they become a meaningful term?”
Austin chuckled. “We all got our talents, bro. But what I’m saying is you need another woman in your life and the kids need a new mother.”
He sighed. “We are doing just fine. Or are you faulting me as a parent?”
Austin threw up his hands. “Heck no! You are the greatest father ever. I know it. And my godson reminds me of it regularly – ‘daddy is the best daddy in the whole wide world’.” He mimicked with a roll of his eyes. “You put the rest of us to shame, man.”
Caleb chuckled. “We all got our talents, bro.”
“I think your flyer design is all set.” Caleb announced giving the graphic drawing on his screen one last assessing look. “Want to take a look?”
“You say it’s set, then it’s set. Hit the printer button and let’s roll.”
“You are the customer and the customer is always right.” Caleb gave it a last once-over, clicked the Print icon, then pushed back his chair and got up.
“So how about a drink while we wait for it to finish printing?” He asked strolling past the groaning Dell Colour Laser Printer to the silver small-size refrigerator.
“That’d be cool.” Austin agreed relaxing against his seat.
Meanwhile Elizabeth and Tonye walked into the not-so-big nicely but sparsely furnished reception hall.
“I’m sure we can find out whatever we need to from the receptionist.” She said in a rough whisper as they headed towards the wood-framed reception desk.
“And miss seeing the Manager? I don’t think so.” Tonye shook his head.
She gave him a killing look and swayed past him, a brilliant smile on her lips as she waited for the pretty-looking receptionist in orange-red Calel Polo-shirt and what looked like a one-time blue jeans to finish her call.
“Good day, we’d like to make enquiries about the cost of labelling T-shirts.” She said immediately she dropped the chunky looking handset.
“Good day, ma.” The girl smiled back, her eyes flickering briefly to the handsome fair man who’d come to stand beside the lady. “Well, though we have standard prices, but at times it all depends on material of your T-shirts, the quantity and number of words you are imprinting.”
Elizabeth inclined her head. “Okay. But what is your standard price for say three hundred, hundred percent cotton T-shirts?”
“Err… how about I give you our Price list and you check it out?” The girl suggested picking up a laminated sheet and passing it to her. “And if you like you can wait and see our Manager, he’s in his office with someone else right now but I’m sure it won’t take long.”
“We would absolutely love to see your Manager please.” Tonye spoke up smiling charmingly at the girl.
“Is there no one else we can see? Since he’s obviously busy.” Elizabeth put in, her own smile engaging.
“Unfortunately no.” The receptionist shook her head. “Our assistant manager is out on an outside job. But my boss won’t take long I assure you.”
Though she was assuring Elizabeth, her cheerful smile was directed at Tonye.
“We will wait, thank you.” Tonye responded with a toothy grin.
The dazzled girl beamed. “You two must be siblings. You look so much alike. Or are you twins?”
“Nope. She chose to rush out a few years ahead of me. You know how impatient you ladies can be.” Tonye winked.
She giggled. “Not all ladies o. Some of us can be very, very patient.”
“Oh God!” Elizabeth groaned under her breath turning to walk to the bench-like settee.
Young ladies… even older ones… just could not resist flirting with Tonye. And being a man, he just enjoyed lapping it all up, she thought sneeringly as she sank into the bench.
“I’m sure you are quite patient yourself.” Tonye smiled at the flirtatious note in her voice.
“I have to be as a front desk executive.” She said with an air of importance. “All kinds of people come in here daily and you just have to be patient with them.”
“Absolutely commendable.” He played with some glossy-paper flyers on the desk, praying he hadn’t started something he couldn’t finish here.
“My name is Ann by the way.” She introduced herself, not wanting to miss the chance of knowing this handsome man more.
“Ann. Hmm, nice name.” He smiled and at her pointed stare, he chuckled and added. “I’m Tonye.”
“Oh Tonye. Is that from Bayelsa or Rivers state?” Ann smiled leaning forward against the desk. “I mean are you Kalabari or Ijaw?”
“Err…” Tonye tossed Elizabeth a helpless look, she looked back at him with a serves-you-right smile on her face. Great. “… Kalabari.” He smiled mildly.
“Wow! I find Kalabari people quite interesting.” Ann beamed.
She did? God save him then.
“I have a friend who…”
She broke off as the door to her left creaked open and Austin stepped out carrying a bulky brown envelope, followed closely by Caleb. Tonye sent a silent thanks to heaven.
“Tonye? Hello.” Caleb stopped short surprised to see the young man and even more so to see his sister sitting in the settee. “Miss Elizabeth, good afternoon.”
She was wearing a brick-red chiffon skirt and a black-and-white striped polyester top. And she was looking beautiful with pretty eyes. Yeah, Austin’s godson was absolutely right, he sighed.
Elizabeth rose to her feet even as Tonye and Caleb shook hands. “Good afternoon, Mr. Onofighe.” She greeted softly coming forward.
“What can I do for you?” Caleb asked and at Austin’s undisguised cough, he shook his head with a small laugh. “Pardon me, Austin. Please meet Miss Elizabeth Harcourt, Rukky class teacher and her brother Tonye and this is Austin Akubueze.”
“Ah, the Motivational Speaker. I should have recognised you.” Tonye grinned extending his hand to take Austin’s. “I was at your – Fail your Way to Success – talk show at the Muson centre last December. It was absolutely mind-blowing.”
Austin grinned at the young man. “And I hope you still remember our slogan?”
“Never stop failing until you make good success.” They both said in unison, laughing.
“A pleasure to meet you, Tonye.” Austin smiled. “And a definite pleasure to meet you, Elizabeth.” He took her outstretched hand in a warm shake. “My godson never stops talking about you.”
“Oh dear! It must be about how strict I am in class.” Elizabeth said with a warm smile. “Children never stop talking about that frightful teacher.”
They all laughed.
“Well, I must be on my way.”Austin said nodding to them. “Caleb, we’ll talk later.”
He gave him a measured look that told Caleb what talk he meant.
“Sir, they were waiting to see you.” Ann put in now that the drama has died down and she’d mostly gotten over the interruption of her time with Tonye.
“Oh. In that case, let’s go over to my office please.”
He opened the alder-wood door, allowed them to go in before he followed.
“Please have a seat.” He invited gesturing to the two red steel-framed stacking chairs in front of his desk. “So how may I help you? But first, may I offer you anything?” He asked taking his own seat.
“No, thanks you.” Elizabeth shook her head, settling into the chair.
“Alright. So?” He prompted, then a frown creased his features as a thought occurred to him. “There is no problem with Rukky in class, is there?”
Elizabeth laughed lightly. “No. No, this is not about Rukky.”
“Well, thank God.” Caleb sighed in relief. “We parents always worry, you know.”
“I quite understand.” Elizabeth replied a trifle stiffly.
Tonye slid his hand to her lap and squeezed gently. “Actually we are here to find out how much it will cost to tag about three hundred cotton T-shirts or Polo-shirts?”
Caleb had noticed the instantaneous tenseness and was a little baffled about it.
“Well, it all depends on how many word-tag you are looking at.” He responded lightly.
Tonye told him the words they were considering using. He noted it down on the jotter in front of him and quietly studied it.
“Hmmm, with that number of words and for three hundred cotton T-shirts, this here would be a ballpark figure.” He wrote something on the jotter, tore it out and passed it to Tonye.
Tonye looked down at the sheet, did a mental back up before passing the paper to Elizabeth.
“Wow! I must say that that is considerably lower than what we usually spend on the Congress T-shirts in the past.” He commented.
Caleb smiled easily. “Well, there is such a thing called first timer’s privilege. Besides, Rukky would severely petition me if he hears I didn’t give a special price to Miss Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth felt her cheeks tinge as she looked into his smiling face. “Well, we are grateful to Rukky’s power of petition and to your generosity.” She said in a light tone.
“You are most welcome.” Caleb smiled easily.
They discussed some other possible items for the Congress and some fifteen minutes later, they were stepping through the entrance door again and moving towards the main road.
“Are you okay?” Tonye asked his voice a little worried.
“Of course I am.” Elizabeth turned her eyes from the Adeniyi Jones light Saturday traffic to look at him. “Why shouldn’t I be? My magical presence just won you and the Youth Ministry a huge discount.”
Tonye grinned at her bragging tone. “It’s your magical presence now, huh? What happened to me bullying you into coming here?”
“So you did too. But still it was my presence and name that did the magic.” Her mouth curled with a mischievous smile. “Such a pity though, that your new friend Ann was on the phone as we left or you’d have been able to stop and continue your flirting.”
He groaned. “Never again. I just learnt that there’s no such thing as harmless flirting anymore. It’s a jungle out there. Yikes!”
She chuckled. “Taxi or bus?”
“Is water wet?”
He grinned. “Taxi then. Straight to church to let Deacon Abiye in on the great news.”
He flagged down a red cab, bargained with the driver and then opened the back door and waited for her to enter before doing same and shutting the door.
“Take it easy, Oga, we are in no hurry.” He said as the driver as he got back on the road.
It was something he always said to cab and bus drivers alike even when they never listen to him more than half the time.
**That is our episode for today. Remember to like our facebook page and use our share buttons… see y’all Saturday, cheers**