Jide tried to compose himself as his wife stepped closer to him, responding to the greetings of the two secretaries.Mixed with the feeling of guilt over his reaction to Anita’s kiss was his leftover resentment from the argument he had withhis wife before he left for work. Her arrival, less than twenty minutes after he reached his office, meant she must have driven outafter him not long after. Jide squared his shoulders, wondering if she had come to the office to extend the argument. It wouldbe a new low in their relationship, but he already expected things to devolve between them anyway. He would just haveto deal with it. “Patricia, it’s a bit of a surprise to see you here.” Jide remarked in a stilted voice. He forced himself to sound more natural. “Is everything okay?” Patricia smiled at him. Jide noticed with surprise that it was the first genuine smile he had seen on her face in days. The smilebrought back good memories of their relationship before things had started to go downhill. Patricia’s blue dress was simple, a slim white belt cinched at her waist to complement the white, low-heeledshoes she had on and for a moment, he allowed himself to enjoy the sight of his beautiful wife walking towards him, her face made even more attractive by the genuine curve of her lips. With a start, he noticed she had a little more make-up thanusual on her face. Had she made an effort to look more attractive for his benefit before she drove to his office?Jide’s eyes drifted to her mouth and the nude lipstick on her lips yanked at his recent memories. Before he could stop himself, the thought of Anita and her soft, greasy mouth swam into his head. He frowned to hide a grimace.Patricia misread his expression. “Truce, I promise.” She said, raising a bag she was holding in her right hand. It bulged with theobvious shape of a food flask of some type. “I merely came to feed my husband….”“Oh in that case, I guess this is not the right time to show you my wares, madam.” A rushed voice interrupted Patricia. Jide and his wife turned to see Florence quicklycovering the distance o where Jide was standing, a small, lidded, blue bucket in her hand.Still behind her own table, unseen by Jide and Patricia, the other secretary opened her eyes wide and flapped a hand at Florence, her attitude screaming,What the hell are you doing? “Your wares?” Patricia’s steps slowed down as she almost reached where Jide was standing. “I don’t understand.” Jide opened his mouth to also say something just as Florence cranked open the lid of the small bucket she was carrying.The smell of something fried and savoury immediately filled the small space and despite himself, Jide leaned closer to the slightly opened bucket, his mouth wateringinstantly. “Just what is that?” he raised hishand towards the bucket, and then froze as his eyes suddenly fell on the lipstick stain on his sleeve.Patricia was still moving towards her husband, a frown gathering on her forehead.Florence also stepped closer to Jide,
“Oh it’s just some sautéed kpomo, sir….oops!” the new secretary stumbled, the bucket in her hand tipping forward. “Oh my God!”Almost in slow motion, the other three people watched, open-mouthed as some of the contents of the bucket slid out, peppered and oily chunks of cow hide falling onto the arm of Jide’s shirt. The palm oil stains promptly camouflaged the bright lipstick stain that Florence’s sharp eyes had noticed.There was a shocked silence, filled with Florence’s profuse apologies as she backed away and returned with a wad of tissue paper in her hand. Patricia stopped her as she was about to touch her husband’s arm. “Don’t do that! You’ll just make it worse.” She snapped, glaring at the secretary.Florence twisted the bit of tissue in her hand. “I’m so sorry, sir…” Jide finally found his voice. “It’s fine, really. No need to apologize.” Patricia’s mouth dropped open. “Excuse me?! This… this person is obviously doing some kind of under-the-table business andshe just stained your shirt and you…”“Patricia.” Jide said loudly, his tone causing his wife to stop talking. “It’s okay. Causing a scene will make no difference. What’s happened has happened. Let’s go into my office; I have a spare shirt.” Patricia threw Florence one more glare andstalked past her husband. Jide followed his wife slowly, turning to lock gazes with Florence.Thank you, his eyes said wordlessly before he entered his office.Florence let her shoulders drop as the doorclosed behind Jide. She shook her head, bending down and using the tissue paper in her hands to pick the few bits of stewed cow hide lying on the marbled floor.When she straightened up, Nancy was standing at her desk with her arms akimbo. “You know say your head no correct, abi?” the other secretary asked in a harsh whisper. “Abi you smoke weed before you come work? See this girl o! This work don tire you already.” Florence smothered a laugh, returning to her desk as Nancy kept up a running line of rebuke in her direction. “Babe, you no gounderstand. Just chill first na.” She threw the meat-filled tissue paper in her wastebasket and grinned to herself.
Although she might have just lost a huge chunk of her earnings from her side business, her instincts told her it was worth it to have saved Jide from the embarrassment he would have suffered if his wife had seen the lipstick stain on his shirt. Florence had not seen this much intrigue and drama in a long time.
Working on the same floor as the handsome Jide Babalola was going to be a fun-filled one.
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