The moment Rosemary stood, he pressed hard behind her and bit out in a harsh whisper. “Keep moving, I have your back.”
Her heart thudded. “What the—”
His voice softened. “It’s okay. Just keep walking. You’re stained.”
Her mouth dropped open and blood drained from her face. The Calabar night buffet was packed full. She’d just had several healthy helpings of delicious local food. How many times had she returned to the buffet table? Four? Had she been stained all along? Oh dear. What an embarrassment. She could weep. She couldn’t bring herself to turn to face the stranger behind her.
A hard hand gently settled on her waist. She had to move. She had to leave. How bad was the stain? She hadn’t felt a thing. Normally her monthlies came with a little warning, cramps here and there. She wasn’t even due for another day or two.
She looked down to her flirty pink skirt. Oh dear.
“It’s okay. Don’t feel bad,” he whispered close to her ear.
Rosemary looked at the legs of the man who had come to her rescue. He wore leather slippers, and blue skinny jean. It was all she got from his outfit with her line of vision. But his toenails were clean and well-cut.
Rosemary imagined all eyes in the hall on her. She picked her bag and took baby steps toward the exit. The hall was full, people moved to and fro the buffet table. The able staff of the restaurant took empty trays of food and replaced them with steaming full ones. Palmwine and zobo drink finished and were refilled. Two chubby women danced to the local ekombi tunes played by a band of five men. The barely clad women smile and shake their booties in a provocative way, a good distraction for all.
They walked out to the staircase and Rosemary turned to him. “Thank—”
Her mouth dropped open mid-sentence. She stared at a fair-skinned man with an angular face. He spotted a goatie and moustache, which fitted him so well, he looked sculptured. His eyes were dark and shrouded around thick lashes. His dark lips, pressed together offered a bemused smile.
Rosemary looked sideways. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m lodged here. We could go to my room so you—” He shrugged. “Clean up.”
Tears piled in Rosemary’s throat. “Thank you.”
It was an offer she didn’t dare reject from such a man. He led her up the stairs and along a corridor to a single room at the end, his hand lightly on her waist.
“You have the bathroom to yourself.” He shrugged again. “If you need anything.” Another shrug.
He must feel as embarrassed as she did, but he put himself in this position, she didn’t. He could have chosen to ignore her when he saw the stain. With such a crowd in the restaurant, Rosemary imagined others may have seen it too.
She licked her lips. “Thank you.”
She shut the bathroom door behind her and stifled a sob. Why had she come here, and alone? Her sister, Imaculata, had begged her for next Friday. But she’d heard so much about the Calabar Night buffet, she couldn’t wait. She could have.
She stood in front of the luxurious bathroom mirror and took a deep breath, dreading what she was about to see. What had prompted the handsome dinner guest to leave his table and his sumptuous meal to come to her aid? It would be awful.
On second thoughts, she decided to clean up first. So she pulled off the skirt, and dropped it on the edge of the Jacuzzi. When she took off her underwear though, she couldn’t hold the screech that escaped from deep within her belly.
Her rescuer knocked on the bathroom door. His deep voice softened to a drawl. “Are you okay?”
She bit her lip, and allowed tears to flow. “I’m fine. Thank you.”
She imagined him shrug. It was a habit she deduced, one that suited the owner well.
She was a mess. How had she not noticed, and known? No hint. This was a good time to blame it on the devil. She could have spent a quiet evening in the one-bedroom accommodation she shared with her sister, while Ima worked the night shift in her hospital job. Instead she risked her life to come out of town to Tinapa for a loner treat. What pushed her?
Rosemary picked the bottle of shampoo on the cabinet and poured a generous quantity out. The shampoo would launder quicker than the body wash. When her white pant was clean, she used the big, fluffy, white hotel towel to squeeze with all her might.
Another knock came, and the door opened. Rosemary froze. Ah this was it. She had made one wrong choice too many. She didn’t even know what to grab to protect herself. She clutched the big towel to her chest. The man was taller than her, and looked so much stronger, with his lean, taut muscled body clad in fitted clothes.
But only his hand shot into the bathroom space. He held a hand dryer in it.
“Huh.” Rosemary slumped against the sink. “Thanks.” She took the dryer from him and he closed the door right back.
The hand dryer did wonders and within a few minutes, Rosemary had her underwear back on, padded with toilet tissue.
She picked her lovely pink skirt and doused the stained area in hotel shampoo. Another ten minutes, and she had her skirt back on.
Now to face the stranger.
She took several deep breathes, and opened the door. The air-conditioning chilled her. It hadn’t been this cold when she came in. But then, she hadn’t noticed anything at the time. The man leaned against the wall by the bed, and punched away on his iPad. Next thing Rosemary knew, John Legend’s All of me, filled the room. The sonorous tenor voice touched a chord in Rosemary’s inside, and she wanted to weep.
“My name is Kazeem. Yours?”
Kazeem. He didn’t dress like one, but the beads on his left wrist explained it all. The goatie too. The handsome rescuer must have strong affinity with his religion.
“Are you Catholic?”
She was right. He must take his religion serious to ask that. Ah, why did the untouchables always look so good, Rosemary moaned inward?
He arched his eyebrow but she didn’t want to talk about it. “I knew a Catholic family once. They had a Rosemary in there.”
“Oh.” She didn’t want to talk to him.
“Can I call you Rose?”
She shrugged. He pressed his lips again with that hint of amusement she found so attractive.
“Have a seat.”
She did, despite herself. It was only polite to oblige him. She wasn’t a rude person, and he’d come to her rescue. Anyone less appealing and more annoying might have.
John Legend pitched on “cause I give you all all all all of me,” and Rosemary gulped for air.
He crossed his long legs. “You are very shy?”
Rosemary smirked. “Considering the circumstances surrounding our—acquaintance, I should be shy.”
Kazeem laughed, a soft sound that surprised Rose. “Don’t be. I have sisters. And I happen to know a little about huh, women issues, shall we say.”
There was a knock on the door. Kazeem walked over to it and attended to a waiter.
“Thank you,” he said softly, and walked back in with a tray. “I ordered drinks.”
He placed the tray on the only table in the room, and mixed the drinks. Rosemary watched his hand as he did. Long fingers with a slight dusting of dark straight hair and manicured nails. He gave her a glass and she took a tentative sip. She didn’t know what mixture the chapman was made of but it tasted really nice.
“Glad you like it.” He sat on the edge of his single bed and took a sip of his drink as well. “So how come you were alone tonight?”
Ah, such a question to avoid. John Legend started all over again, and Rose moaned. He put the song on repeat?
“My sister and I had been planning to come together but she got a call at work so she had to cancel.”
“You could have come another day.”
“This special buffet is once a week.”
They drank in silence for a bit. “I am just here for a few days. I came in today.”
He seemed reluctant to talk, Rose realized. “On business?”
“No.” He shrugged. “Just wanted to see the great Tinapa. I travel a lot.”
She couldn’t imagine a person traveling all over just to see a place. Surely he must be rich.
“Do you travel a lot?”
“Me? No. I was born and raised here. Done all my education here.”
He laughed again. “I can’t imagine not seeing places.” He shrugged. “I’ll take you around.”
“No. I don’t like travelling.”
He smiled. “I can convince you.”
His smile affected her. She finished her drink and stood. “I have to go. Thank you.”
He sipped his drink. “What does your sister do?”
“Yes. You were to come with her tonight and she had to work.”
“She’s a nurse.”
“And what do you do?”
This interrogation all just because of a most embarrassing rescue. “I’m a school teacher. I—teach nursery school children.”
“Ah, that’s nice. What you do, I mean.” He stood. “I’ll walk you to the gate.”
“The gate is far.” Rosemary smirked again. “I came with a car.”
“I’m here for the weekend. Can I see you again?”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea—”