Yinka is painting her nails at the reception desk. Bunmi sees me coming and nudges her, but it is a pointless warning—Yinka will not stop on my account. She acknowledges my presence with a feline smile.
“Korede, those shoes are nice o!”
“The original must be very expensive.”
Bunmi chokes on the water she is sipping, but I won’t rise to the bait. Tade’s voice is still ringing in my body, calming me as it calmed the child. I ignore her and turn to Bunmi.
“I’m going to take my lunch break now.”
I head to the second floor with food in hand and knock on Tade’s office door, waiting for his rich voice to grant entry. Gimpe, another cleaner (with all these cleaners, you would think the hospital would be spotless), looks my way and gives me a friendly, knowing smile—showing off her high cheekbones. I refuse to return it; she knows nothing about me. I try to bury my nerves and give the door another gentle knock.
I am not entering his office in my capacity as a nurse. My hands are holding a container of rice and ẹ́fọ́. I can tell that the smell makes its way to him as soon as I walk in.
“To what do I owe this honour?”
“You rarely take advantage of your lunch break . . . so I thought I would bring lunch to you.”
He accepts the container from me, and peers inside, inhaling deeply. “You made this? It smells exquisite!”
“Here.” I hand him a fork and he digs in. He closes his eyes and sighs, and then opens them to smile at me.
“This is . . . Korede . . . men . . . you’re going to make someone an awesome wife.”
I’m sure the grin on my face is too big to be captured in a picture. I feel it all the way to my toes.
“I’m going to have to eat the rest of this later,” he tells me, “I need to finish this report.”
I stand up from the corner of the desk that I had made my temporary seat and offer to stop by later for the Tupperware.
“Korede, seriously, thank you. You’re the best.”
There is a woman in the waiting room trying to calm a crying baby by rocking it back and forth, but the child won’t be hushed. It is irritating some of the other patients who are waiting in the reception. It is irritating me. I head toward her with a rattle, on the off chance that it will distract the baby, just as the entrance doors open—
Ayoola walks in, and every head turns her way and stays there. I stop where I am, rattle in hand, trying to understand what is happening. She looks as though she has brought the sunshine in with her. She is wearing a bright yellow shirtdress that by no means hides her generous breasts. Her feet are in green, strappy heels that make up for what she lacks in height, and she is holding a white clutch, big enough to house a nine-inch weapon.
She smiles at me, and saunters in my direction. I hear a man mutter “Damn” under his breath.
“Ayoola, what are you doing here?” My voice is tight in my throat.
She floats away not answering my question and heads toward the nurses’ desk. Their eyes are fixed on her and she smiles her best smile. “You’re my sister’s friends?”
They open their mouths and shut them again.
“You’re Korede’s sister?” Yinka squeaks. I can see her trying to make the connection, measuring Ayoola’s looks against mine. The resemblance is there—we share the same mouth, the same eyes—but Ayoola looks like a Bratz doll and I resemble a voodoo figurine. Yinka, who is arguably the most attractive employee at St Peter’s, with her cherub nose and wide lips, pales to the point of insignificance beside Ayoola. She knows it, too; she is twirling her expensive hair with her fingers and has pushed back her shoulders.
“What scent is that?” asks Bunmi. “It’s like . . . it’s really . . .”
Ayoola leans forward and whispers something into Bunmi’s ear, and then she straightens up. “It’s our little secret, okay?” She winks at Bunmi, and Bunmi’s usually impassive face lights up. I’ve had enough. I head toward the desk.
Just then, I hear Tade’s voice and my heart quickens. I grab Ayoola, dragging her toward the exit.
“You have to go!”
“What? Why? Why are you being so—”
“What’s going . . .” Tade’s voice trails to nothing and the blood cools within my body. Ayoola frees herself from my grip, but it doesn’t matter; it’s too late anyway. His eyes settle on Ayoola and dilate. He adjusts his coat. “What’s going on?” He says again, his voice suddenly husky.
“I’m Korede’s sister,” she announces.
He looks from her to me, then back to her again. “I didn’t know you had a sister?” He is talking to me, but his eyes have not left hers.
Ayoola pouts. “I think she is ashamed of me.”
He smiles at her; it is a kind smile. “Of course not. Who could be? Sorry, I didn’t get your name.”
“Ayoola.” She puts out her hand, the way a queen would for her subjects.
He takes it and gives it a gentle squeeze. “I’m Tade.”
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About the Author:
Oyinkan Braithwaite is a graduate of Creative Writing and Law from Kingston University. Following her degree, she worked as an assistant editor at Kachifo, a Lagos-based publishing house, and has been freelancing as a writer and editor since. In 2014, she was shortlisted as a top-ten spoken-word artist in the Eko Poetry Slam, and in 2016 she was a finalist for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria.