The atmosphere was red and white. Balloons here, stringed shimmers there. The seats wore red garments with a white belt and the table as brilliant as any white fabric could ever be. From the kitchen counter, I caught Matthew with the sham smile he was instructed to put on whenever he was opening the glass door for customers. The only thing that had a tint of Valentine on his light brown uniform was the white edge of his blue nose mask.
“Welcome to G-Prestige Restaurant.” I was wearied by his monotonous reception.
Well, that was his job anyway, I’ve got mine to be burdened with. I don’t really like white long sleeves but my job as a waiter in the restaurant upheld it. I preferred darker outfits to white because I loved to play and get dirty but this was my workplace, not my hostel.
Nothing was interesting about this Valentine day, so I thought. Maybe it was because I didn’t have the money and courage to officially let Shola know how much I feel about her. Or maybe I had not eaten since the afternoon of yesterday. And wouldn’t until this afternoon. I heard the song, “Wise men say… Only fools fall in… But I can’t help falling in love with you… play in the background.”
I watched couples walk in, most of the men’s hands rested either on the waist or on the shoulder of their woman. I imagined myself in their shoes bringing my babe to the restaurant and spending money the way I would spend a large amount of remnant data from 11 pm when it would be due for expiration by midnight.
I carried my tray well balanced on my cupped fingertips. And went to a table.
“What would you like to eat sir?”
His face was still hidden in the menu. He whispered some things in the Yoruba language to his woman and they both gave a brief giggle.
“Bring us a bottle of champagne and some potato salad.” The man in the red suit replied.
“Sweetheart, ” he turned slowly to the Lady beside him, “would you like your regular chicken and chips?”
The woman looked down to the table, thoughtfully, for a second tapping her chin with her index finger.
“Let me eat something different today. I’d like to try that fried bacon in coleslaw…” she looked up to see if I was listening, “…with extra cream please.”
“Okay.” I smiled “Do you want anything else? An appetiser?”
“No thank you. This is all I want actually. Right, honey?”
“Anything for you my missing rib…” his lips glued to hers for a moment.
At that point, I thought of Shola, and how I met her at our faculty library. How I offered to teach her lipid metabolism in biochemistry just to be close to her. I thought of how shy I was to ask her for her WhatsApp number. I thought of Shola and me as “us” and I mentally replaced the couple on the table with us.
“I… I… I’ll just go get the… Erm… Your bill. Sorry… Your orders.” I stuttered.
They giggled again. I heard them from behind as I walked away.
As I went to the kitchen to state the orders, I saw, over the short counter, what I thought was only imaginable. At the glass door stood Shola.
She was a Lion Queen. A Majesty in a short crimson gown. Her curved hips shot out alarmingly from her slender self. Hanging from her left arm was a diamond-stoned white bag which matched the colour of her wedge heels. Her make up were so good I could lick it if it wasn’t on her face.
In my mind, or my heart more appropriately, I heard angelic voices sing Amazing Grace, how sweet thou art, overshadowing the main music playing in the background.
Shola’s eyes darted around. Her lips widely spread in pleasure and her dark pink blush marks on her chocolate coloured skin was nearly visible. She was as visible and as real as my thumbs. And she was alone. For one thing, I couldn’t leave the kitchen counter until all my orders were set on my tray; I did not also want to attract undesirable attention from people by shouting her name or waving an arm. I just tried to lock contacted with her using my eyes. And the very moment I finally did, her phone stole her attention from me. She slapped her phone to her ears, smiled, said somethings and turned towards the glass door — I was wrong; she was not alone.
I knew Lanre too. He was not even in the same faculty as Shola. How could he have been her val? I watched him come in and threw a hug at her and I watched her reciprocate it. The hug seemed longer and tighter than normal in my sight.
The duo walked to an empty table. He pulled out a seat for her to sit. Shola’s lips widened, parted and was finally pursed as she said: “thank you”.
My faced become the colour of her dress. Who was this goddamned guy playing romantic African with my crush?
“Oga! Carry your tray go serve customer na!” A fellow waiter shouted bringing my attention back.
I picked my tray, balanced it on my fingertips and headed towards the couple I was attending to earlier. My mind and eyes still on Shola and that “intruder” who sat opposite her on the same round table.
My face and my hands were 90° apart. And my new north was at Shola. I dropped my order at the table before me without looking. There was murmuring on the table where I dropped the food, but I didn’t care to know; I just couldn’t stop looking at her. I watched helplessly as Lanre fiddling with her hair and trying to shoot his lips towards her bare neck. Shola looked up and our eyes jammed again. She gave a brief squint.
“Hey! I remember you!” Shola whispered so softly and yet so loud that my eager ears could pick it.
I wanted to move towards her table until the “mad man” beside her shouted.
“Haysss! Looku looku waiter come and serve us jare!”
I was mad too. But I tried to hide it until I marched to their table.
“Are you a fool?” The question had left my mouth even before reaching my brain for processing.
He stood up. His eyes, reddened and eager to take action, sized me from the tip of my bushy hair to the black oversized shoe I had borrowed from my dad — I didn’t have one of my own.
“Do your worse!” I tried to conceal my cowardliness before Shola.
I got it. A fistful gift from Lanre that made me stumble till I crashed into a neighbouring table. Spilling drinks and food on the floor and staining my white shirt. All eyes shot me as I laid on the floor helplessly. Regaining my consciousness, I saw a blurred vision of Shola trying to calm her guy down. And some of my fellow waiters rushing to raise me from my mess.
“Shame on you!” A lady cried. “You were so irrational!”
“That’s the waiter!” Another older lady said “He dropped our order on another person’s table. Because he wasn’t looking! He was lusting another man’s lady!”
I looked ahead. It was the couple that ordered for champagne and potatoes salad. So I gave another table occupant a free lunch?
“What is the issue?!” Our Human Resource manager rushed out. As I was trying to peel off broken glass pieces which had pierced my ebony skin during my “table landing,” my eyes met my HR manager, Mr. Tunde.
“Clean up this mess!” Mr. Tunde stabbed his index finger into my chest, “Meet me in my office.”
Clothed in a soiled white shirt and shame, I put the table and floor in order. I watched Shola go, she was disappointed at her guy for not being gentlemanly. I smirked at Lanre’s fate. I watch him walk after her.
“Shola wait. Shola please wait…” his voice trailed after her until he was outside too.
He had lost one — Shola — for the day. And I had gained three. A swollen left check, embarrassment coated with injuries and most certainly, a sack letter.
Ebube Ezeadum, a lover of creative writing wrote in via email@example.com