Authors: AMARA NICOLE OKOLO
Mira Adaora Dike hurried down the hallway of the café, her ten-centimetre Christian Louboutin shoes tapping on the smooth marble floor as she tried to balance her large bag, a paper coffee cup and talk into her BlackBerry all at the same time. A ballpoint pen was stuck in her dark natural curls, and her lapels flapped in sync as she hurried towards the large front doors. “One minute, Lauren!” she panted into the phone. “I’m at the office – almost there!”
“Mira, it is nine-forty five – on a Monday morning. You were supposed to be here by 9am, getting us ready for this meeting. Clearly, I, the boss, am here before you. And not only am I here before you, but I also don’t have my messages, my notes, the report on the work I gave you yesterday – and yes, my coffee. I don’t have my morning coffee. Please explain to me, my honourable P.A. … how am I supposed to function
without my coffee
The breeze blew some papers off the pile, and Mira swore under her breath as she bent on her haunches to retrieve them. “I have the coffee!” she said, and winced at how high-pitched her voice was. “I stopped at Cocoa Burn Café to get your favourite … frozen cappuccino with strawberry cream and cocoa sprinkles …”
“But you just said you’re at the office. How can you be
at the office and at Cocoa Burn at the same time … what are you now, a clone?”
Dread washed over her. “I …” she swallowed, smiling wanly at the doorman who had politely helped her gather up the fallen papers. “Well, no but—”
“Need I remind you why you are my P.A., Mira? Do we have to go down that road?”
“No.” She didn’t want to go down that road. That road was a mundane sermon she didn’t want to hear. “I’ll be there in a minute. No, make that 30 seconds! I promise—” but the call was ended before she finished her sentence.
She thanked the doorman and darted down the front steps, the cool morning air fluttering through her hair. This was Sade and T.J.’s fault. If they had not been hellbent on setting up that disastrous date last night, she wouldn’t have been this late. But no, they were so keen on getting her a man and since they were her friends she had agreed – only to spend an hour and a half listening to the date boast about his wealth and the number of cars he had in his garage. Now here she was hurtling through the parking lot of Cocoa Burn with files the size of Mount Kilimanjaro in her arms, her boss bitching about lateness and coffee – like Mira didn’t have bigger problems. Bigger problems like loss of sleep, bags under her eyes and her hair looking like she had just been zapped with a Taser.
When had her life turned into this nightmare?
Ever since she was a little girl Mira had known what she wanted to be when she grew up: a high-flying editor of a style magazine. Personal assistant to an overbearing, bossy editor of
had not featured in her dreams. Not that being a P.A. was all bad. She had to admit it did come with perks, such as a nice flat in a suburban neighbourhood in Lekki Phase 1 and a company car. But sometimes the challenges seemed to overshadow the perks. Slashed-down sleeping hours, mostly spent in front of a laptop trying to book meetings; never-ending phone calls; meetings,
meetings. Her life was a routine and, if there was anything Mira abhorred, it was a monotonous life. Well … that and her temperamental boss.
She stopped at the threshold, her eyes searching for her car in the crowded parking lot. Where had she parked it? She finally spotted it at the far end of the lot, nestled between a Range Rover and Honda Civic. She strode towards it, her mind returning to Lauren. OK, maybe she didn’t really hate her boss, but she just didn’t feel adequately aligned in a positive relationship with the woman. In other words, she was terrified of her.
Lauren Akinola was a formidable force and her solid, six-foot-tall frame and striking features didn’t make her more approachable. Her legendary icy stare froze the office as she walked through its hallway. She was also an unapologetic perfectionist and ruthless to the core. It was bad enough that Mira had to stomach the
woman’s incessant yelling all day long, but then she also had to do everything right, like she was a robot. Take this coffee for example – Lauren had a strict instruction on the quantities she wanted: two shots of espresso, a teaspoon of honey, one dollop of strawberry cream and two teaspoons of cocoa sprinkles. Anything less or more and Mira was doomed. She beeped the car door open and carefully placed the documents on the passenger’s seat, and the coffee in the cup holder. Firing up the engine, she backed her car out of the parking space.
She gasped, screeching the car to a halt. A black Mercedes Benz was behind, and she could see in her rear-view mirror the ugly dent her bumper had left on its bodywork. One of its headlights was shattered and bits of glass were scattered on the tarred ground.
. This was just what she needed right now: a disgruntled car owner ranting abuse at her.
Could it get any worse?
Sighing with resignation she got out, ready for a verbal attack. The driver of the other car was already out and on his haunches, inspecting the damage. He was dressed in a white T-shirt and blue jeans. She walked towards him, horrified at her handiwork. “Dammit,” she swore under her breath.
He looked up, and her heart stopped.
His eyes, hazel and inquisitive, looked like liquid fire. They glistered like a tiger’s. She stared, lost in them.
Then she noticed that his gaze didn’t contain the lust she felt. If anything he looked puzzled, like she was a mystic figure who would disappear if he blinked.
She cleared her throat, stretching out her hand. “Hi.” She tried to smile, but her cheeks felt like lead and didn’t cooperate.
The hazel eyes widened as he gave her a one-look appraisal. “You were the one backing out the Kia Rio?’ It wasn’t a question but a confirmation that she had
been the one backing out the Kia Rio.
Mira sighed and held up her hands. “Guilty,” she said.
“Well, you just hit my car,” he announced flatly.
She sucked in air through her teeth as she glanced at the wreck. “Crap,” she said under her breath. She turned to him. “I’m so sorry … I’m usually a very good driver, believe me.”
The stranger nodded. “Well, going by that coffee cup in your hand I can only assume that you are not fully awake.”
She stared blankly at the coffee – why had she brought it out with her? She quickly placed it on the roof of her car. “I-no, I’m just … I am having the worst morning of my life and now this,” she gesticulated at his car. “This just made it worse.”
He chuckled and her midriff quivered. “Rough morning?” he said in a soft voice, his eyes sympathetic.
“You don’t know the half of it.”
“I can tell … you look ready to swing at something
with those.” He nodded at her hands. She looked down at them and sure enough they were balled into tight fists. She quickly hid her arms behind her, her face heated with embarrassment.
He smiled, his eyes wrinkling slightly at the corners. His gaze drifted away from her face and slowly took her in, starting with her neck and moving to her slender shoulders, her ample chest and flat stomach, then down to the curvy hips and shapely legs. It lingered on her legs, and then wandered back up to her face. By now she was flustered with both pleasure and edginess at his intense appraisal, and she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “Look, I am sorry. It’s my fault; I didn’t see you coming in—”
“Leaving,” the Benz owner said, rising from his haunches. “I was leaving actually.”
His height distracted her and she gawked at him. He was tall, probably close to two metres. Pleasure ran through her veins and her heartbeat speeded up. She had always had a thing for tall men. Well … not this tall, but then she had not come across many tall men either.
Well that’s intimidating,
she thought wryly.
Not to mention depressing. You come across your fantasy in real life and you bash his car headlight off … talk about the irony.
He was talking, so she forced herself back to the present. “I was leaving and I also didn’t see you backing out. You didn’t look before backing out either,” he said with accusation in his voice.
“I—” Mira began, but decided against it. There was no sense arguing. “OK, here’s what will happen.” She opened her bag and brought out a chequebook. “I’ll pay for the damages. This should be enough to cover the repairs.” She held out the signed cheque and her business card. “If it doesn’t, you can call me on that number and I will—”
“Whoa, whoa … hold up. Hey, I don’t want your money, lady.” He raised both hands up, laughing nervously.
Mira narrowed her eyes at him. “You don’t?”
What game is he trying to play here?
He smiled, his handsome face lighting up like a hundred skylights. “Don’t worry; I’ll take care of it. Thanks for apologising though,” he said as he walked over to the driver’s side.
Mira stared, her cheque still held out in front of her. A dedicated feminist, her Rational Mind began speaking to her – it always did in moments like this.
Well, well, well … look at him! He’s just like the rest of them – Mr Egocentric! You’re a woman, after all … how dare you give him a cheque to repair his car? He rejected this cheque because of his ego! Imagine all the things he’ll think about you: a show-off, another woman who likes to show off with her money! What makes you think this one would be different?
Annoyance ran like electricity through her body. “No, I insist you take it.”
He halted and frowned. “I’m sorry … what?”
“That’s what you men always do, isn’t it? Always look
down on women. What, you won’t accept the cheque because it’s coming from a woman? If I were a man you’d be demanding I pay for the damages. But no, I’m a woman so you feel you don’t need my money!”
“I still don’t follow—?”
“Just take the bloody cheque! I did this to your car. I have to pay for it; it doesn’t matter if I’m female! You men are just unbearable … can’t you burst that ego you carry like in a modern-day
He was clearly taken aback. He stared at her and then shook his head. “Wow … OK, lady, I don’t know what your problem is but I won’t stand here and listen to this nonsense. Take care.” He got in and sped off, leaving skid marks. She stared as the car disappeared into the traffic, suddenly feeling guilty and embarrassed. What the hell did she just do? Oh, perfect, she just pissed off a stranger over her emotional issues that clearly didn’t concern the poor guy.
Can this day get any worse
At that moment a breeze blew the coffee cup off the roof of her car. Its creamy-brown contents spread all over the ground.
The office was bustling with activity when she arrived. Everyone was busy, from the receptionist fielding calls at the front desk to the workers milling around with files stacked in their arms. Adjusting her handbag, Mira hurried to the lift and manoeuvred herself through the closing doors, sighing with relief as it jolted into motion. A black folder threatened to slide off the pile she was carrying and she slipped it back in, ignoring the vibrating phone in her jacket pocket. For a moment she recalled the stranger in the parking lot, and a jolt of desire went through her. She rolled her eyes at the unusual reaction, wondering why he had such an effect on her. Then she remembered how rudely she had dismissed him, and a pang of guilt squeezed her gut. She had a tendency to be opinionated, and sometimes she forgot where to draw the line. Had she gone too far this time?
No, you didn’t
, her Rational Mind replied.
You were just being honest, Mira … you were speaking your mind. When did it become a crime for a sister to air her views? This is the 21st century … the world had better keep up!
The lift doors pinged open. Snapping out of her thoughts, she walked briskly into the lobby, biting her lower lip in pain as her Louboutin heels chafed her ankles. She spotted Adeleye pacing around the west wing of the the building, his eyes periodically darting towards the
lifts. He was the head of graphics and design and Mira’s closest friend at the office. “Finally!” he exclaimed when he saw her. “You’re here—”
“Hold this before you say anything,” she said, thrusting some of the files at his scrawny chest. Then she bent down and took off the shoes. “That feels much better,” she confessed with a sigh.
“We thought you’d never arrive – what took you so long?”
She could barely catch her breath as they headed for Lauren’s office. “You live in Lagos – you should know the traffic situation.”
“Oooh … that. Well, you’ve got to come up with a better excuse when you get in there because Lauren is burning wood, iron and steel behind those doors, all for you,” Adeleye said, flipping aside a stray lock from his mane of dreadlocks. They were now at the door and he squinted at her bare feet through his geeky glasses. “Don’t tell me you’re going in there barefoot?”
She scoffed, “As if I would.” She rolled her eyes as she slipped her feet back into the Louboutins.
He handed her the files. “There’s always a first time. I think Lauren would love it, to be honest.” He tried to keep a straight face but snorted a laugh.
Mira rolled her eyes. Adeleye was known for his sarcasm. “Right,” she muttered, shooing him off. “Oya, you can go now, Reggae Leye.”
He grinned. “Adios, go face the firing squad alone. I
take my leave now lest I get blown up too.”
“Go away!” Mira hissed. Laughing, he walked off. Taking a deep breath, she pushed the door open, her heartbeat equivalent to a conga drum. Lauren was seated behind the wide glass desk, looking smart in a two-piece lemon-coloured suit. Even in her late-forties she looked radiant and young, her chocolate-complexioned skin glowing and devoid of wrinkles. Today her dark hair was piled up in a braided bun, and red-framed glasses set off her clear eyes. As usual, her face was made up so perfectly it looked like Gothic art. She was talking to a young, full-figured woman seated opposite her but she looked up as Mira shut the heavy oak door behind her.
“Ah, finally, her Royal Highness my P.A. is here. I’m sorry the trumpeters aren’t here to herald your arrival,” Lauren said.
“I am sorry, Lauren.”
Lauren raised a hand, halting her. “Sit!” she ordered.
Mira quickly obeyed. “Mirabel, meet Ifeoma Ogendu. She is a former model who runs an NGO for children with sickle-cell anaemia. She will be our front-cover model for this month’s edition.”
Ifeoma extended her hand. “Hello,” she said in a soft voice. She was very pretty, with small, almond-shaped eyes, dimpled cheeks, a button nose and a pearly-toothed smile. “I’m pleased to meet you, Mirabel.”
Mira returned the handshake. “Same here, but my name isn’t Mirabel, it’s just Mira.” Lauren had a habit
of getting her name wrong whenever she was angry, as she was now. Most times, Mira regretted not going by her middle name Adaora. At least there would have been no confusion.
Ifeoma looked confused. “But …” she pointed at Lauren, “she told me that was your name.”
Mira glanced over at Lauren, whose face was clouded with annoyance. She lowered her eyes. “Forget about it.”
Lauren stood up, preening as if nothing had happened. “Come with me, Ifeoma dear, I’d like to show you the dresses you’ll be wearing,” she said in a syrupy voice. She led the woman forward, and then turned back and stabbed a finger towards Mira, her face creased with a frown. “You! Take notes and be the P.A. you are, OK? And, for the sake of your job, don’t
say another word.”
“I – yes Lauren,” Mira stammered with a rapid nod. There was no need to annoy the woman any further. If there was anything she had learned from her two years of working with Lauren, it was to obey orders. No further questions. She sat on the orange sofa beside a window and began writing, discreetly watching the women sift through the clothes rails that littered the office. All the dresses were designer labels: Coco Chanel, Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana – a fashionista’s dream. But, as the slightly plump Ifeoma slipped into them, Mira’s brows began to rise in surprise, distaste and finally frustration. Within minutes Ifeoma looked frustrated too, and began
“These dresses aren’t for me, Lauren,” she complained as she took off a Vivienne Westwood blue two-piece gown, which had been ridiculously tight at the waistline. “They are really beautiful and I appreciate your effort, but these dresses were designed for a size two model. I’m a size six now. I can’t fit into them any more.”
Lauren, expecting sunshine even in the face of a tsunami, tried urging her on. “Oh, I bet they’ll fit, Ify. I’ll talk with our designers, they can alter—”
Ifeoma shook her head. “It’s not about alterations; I just don’t feel comfortable wearing these clothes. All my life as a model I wore these dresses on runways in New York and Paris. Those years are gone. Now I am married with kids, living in Nigeria. I’d love to wear something more … homey.”
“Oh, I get it! You want something more maternal and homey; I can do that! I’m pretty sure we have a special edition of Christian Dior that would fit perfectly.” She turned to Mira and snapped her fingers. “Mira, what was that collection from CD that featured dresses for expectant mothers—”
Ifeoma sighed. “No, you’re misunderstanding me. I’d feel far better in something African.”
“I couldn’t agree more with that,” Mira muttered.
The two women turned to her. “Excuse
?” Lauren asked incredulously.
Mira jerked her head up, realising her mistake. They
were looking at her, Ifeoma with a hint of interest and Lauren with an icy stare. “I …” she blinked, then coughed nervously. “I’m sorry … please pay no attention to me, Mrs Ifeoma. I didn’t mean to say anything.”
But Ifeoma was already seated beside her, clearly interested in what she had to say. “No, don’t apologise. You seem to understand, so let’s hear your opinion. What do you think, Mirabel?”
“Mira,” she corrected sweetly.
“Yes, yes … go ahead?”
Mira turned to her boss for approval. The latter rolled her eyes and waved her on. Mira smiled. “Well, like you said … you need something African, and if I was in your shoes I’d get an Ankara material and create my own style, a beautiful dress that would rival any designer’s in the world! We’ve got so many choices in the markets, and the great thing is you can team local and foreign fabrics and produce fantastic results.”
Ifeoma gasped with delight. “That is a good idea!”
“What did she say that is so important?” Lauren wanted to know.
“She’s right! I want to be dressed in native dresses, Lauren! I want to send a message to people out there, and what better way to connect with our people than looking like them? Look outside your window now, into the streets of Lagos – how many women do you see wearing a Dolce and Gabbana gown or a Vera Wang dress? A handful, that’s all you’ll see! But thousands are wearing adire and Ankara.
Those are the women like us, Lauren … those are the women who will pick up
next month with my face on it and want to read about me,” Ifeoma said with spirit. She looked at the clothes rail. “I appreciate all these clothes, but it’s time to get them out of here. Bring on the Ankara, abeg.” She winked at Mira and looked at Lauren. “What do you say, Lauren?”
Silence reigned for a minute. The only sounds were the dull hum of the air conditioner on the silver-white walls and the ringing phone outside the door. Finally, Lauren nodded. “OK then, we can arrange that. Thankfully we are on contract with some of the best African designers. And, they only use original Vlisco fabric. I’ll call Deola Sagoe or Jewel by Lisa to send one of their staff to come and measure you.”
“Um … I could draw you a design if you want,” Mira suggested tentatively.
“Oh my goodness,” Ifeoma said, her hand splayed on her chest. “You design too?”
Mira shrugged, enjoying the moment. “And I sew.”
Lauren looked puzzled. “I didn’t know about that, Mira.”
“I don’t really talk about it.” She opened her bag and pulled out a crocodile-skin portfolio. “These are my sketches.” She handed it over to Ifeoma. “Pick whichever you like, and if you don’t see anything you like in there,” she tore out a page from her jotting pad, “then I’ll just make one … from scratch. What do you say?”
Ifeoma looked at the first sketch, her eyes wide with delight. Then she shut the folio and looked up. “Lauren, could you please explain to me why this lady is your P.A.?”