It was half past noon and Valerie had only just taken her bath. Who said house keeping in a mansion was child’s play? And to think there were those in the house who would always be rude to her and ungrateful, despite putting in her best efforts.
Omo, her supposed friend had threatened her earlier. Ms. Grace still didn’t think she should be sharing home maintenance with her. And Andrew? Well, she was glad he hadn’t snapped her neck yet. A good thing she hadn’t run into him again.
Ms. Grace was definitely going to be a thorn on her flesh, for as long as she could. The elderly woman had come home later that morning, really pissed to see Valerie had prepared breakfast. She complained so bitterly, and even insulted Valerie for setting the table wrongly.
“Where on earth do you come from?” She asked, aggressively, pushing Valerie aside and taking over setting the table for breakfast “of what use are you, if you can’t even set a table properly?” Ms. Grace continued, “and what is the guarantee that you even prepared breakfast well?” She turned angry eyes on Valerie, briefly. “I still insist you shouldn’t be in this house. I do not need your help”.
“Really?” Valerie wasn’t sure for how much longer she could take the elderly woman’s insult. “You were away. I had to cook, else everyone would remain hungry much longer”.
“Oh yes. Go on and praise yourself? I am here now. And from what I see, we are still setting the table. It wouldn’t have taken me more than 30 minutes to prepare pepper soup and boil plantain, as well as set the table, 30 minutes young lady. 30. And I don’t even like the soup you prepared. I wouldn’t let you feed that trash you call soup to Mr. Okis. Not while I am alive”.
“Oh. But Mr. Okis will enjoy it”, Valerie defended.
“You want to test my patience?” Ms. Grace dared her.
“What’s happening here?” Okis’ voice came from his study entrance. The women turned around to see him, refreshed and dressed in casuals – green t-shirt on blue jeans shorts. He held a book, or was it a diary, in one hand.
“I told you not to hire her. That’s what”, Ms. Grace snapped, before turning her attention back to setting the table. Valerie sighed, not knowing what to say, or where to start from. Her brows did shoot up though, when she saw Okis leave his spot to hug a very angry Ms. Grace to himself, petting her right shoulder and saying soothing words to her ears. Occasionally planting kisses on her head.
The picture they presented was that of mother and son. Okis loved her, and obviously respected her. Valerie knew then, she’d have to watch her tongue around Ms. Grace. For if she spoke to her rudely, it was equal to speaking to the master’s mother rudely. And there was hardly a man on earth who would tolerate his mother being insulted.
“I’m sorry”, Valerie swallowed. Okis looked up at her. His expression was blank. “I’m sorry. She repeated, “I only wanted to help. I never wished to make anyone angry or do things terribly”, she turned to leave, but Okis asked her to wait. He quickly talked quietly with Mrs. Grace and pecked her cheeks and forehead again, before asking Valerie to follow him into the study.
This is it. Valerie thought. Now he’s going to ask me to leave. Where do I go? She cried in her heart.
“Sit”, Okis gestured at the empty chair at the opposite side of his desk. She obeyed. He took his seat too, dropped his diary on the table, looked back at her. Expression blank. Then cleared his voice. “I’ll have to ask that. ..”
“Please don’t”, Valerie cut him short, quickly getting on her knees. Okis frowned, surprised at her action. “I don’t have anywhere else to go. Please don’t send me away”, she begged. “I see now that you regard Ms. Grace as your mother. I wouldn’t argue with her or knowingly do things to annoy her. Please. This wouldn’t repeat itself”.
“Did you knowingly do things to annoy her?”, he leaned on the back rest. Alert. Observing.
“No!” She objected, “I only prepared breakfast and tried to set the table as I know how to. I didn’t know she wouldn’t like it. Please. Don’t send me away”, she clasped her hands in front of her.
Okis sighed, got to his feet and moved around to where Valerie was still kneeling. Holding her by both her shoulders, he pulled her to her feet, ensuring her body was only inches away from his. “Look Miss. Valerie, I love Ms. Grace, very much. I love her like she were my own mother. I lost my real mother at birth. Ms. Grace raised me up. She stayed with me when my father took to drinking and women. She stayed with me long after he died. And because I was too young, only 10, when my father died, she helped me run the businesses he left me, until I was old enough to take over. Through every pain and happiness I have ever experienced, she stayed with me. Do you understand now, why she’s close to my heart?”
“Hmmm”, Valerie nodded, as heat started to creep up her body. She was too aware of him, and of his closeness. All attempts to not have a racing heart failed, woefully. How could she hate men and sex, after all that had happened to her, and yet find her body reacting to this man that was strange in many ways?
“I was never going to fire you”, Okis continued, “I only want to ask that you bear with Ms. Grace for as long as is necessary. If you understand what we have been through in life together, you will understand her reluctance to open her heart and home to anyone again. Trust is lost. Omo’s arrival in this house has not helped issues. She is a terrible mistake we are unable to ….”,
“Omo?” Valerie looked confused, “but she sounds like a nice girl. Why will anyone hate her?”
Okis’ brows shot up. “Really? A nice girl? And how do you know this?”, his grip tightened around her arm and he pulled her closer, frowning, until the duo were only a hair’s breath away from each other. Valerie tried to move back, but he wouldn’t let her.
“Please let me go, you’re hurting me”, she struggled with him
“Speak up, Miss. Valerie. How do you know she’s nice? Are you her accomplice? I’m I wrong about who you really are?”
“I will tell if you let go of me!”, Valerie insisted,
“My nearness inconveniences you?”
“Yes”, she continued her struggle to break free. No, she wasn’t only scared of his nearness and the havoc it wrecked in her once calm body, she was also scared that he could have her whenever he felt like it, wherever, and get away with it. She’ll be too weak to even fight him.
“Why? Are you scared of me?” He asked, worry took over his expression, but it didn’t stop him from pulling her closer, making their bodies touch.
“Because you’re dangerous” she said, placing her folded palms in front of her breast, to prevent them from touching Okis’ chest. “It is better, sir, that you send me back into the wild, than force yourself on me”, she flashed angry eyes at him, “I’ve had enough of rape in one life time and I’d rather die than let another man force himself on me!” She yelled. Her words got to him. Okis frowned. His once cold expression went soft, with sympathy and then remorse. He let go of her. She pulled back.
Okis wouldn’t need to rape her. He’d only kiss her and she’ll melt under his touch and beg for more of him. She was sure of it. And she was sure it would be terrible to find herself melting for a man who murdered his own wife.
How did she get to this point? Less than a day in the house and she was finding herself sexually attracted to her employer.
“I’m sorry”, Okis apologized, then swallowed “but I want you to know, I never intended to force myself on you. Its just that I have a habit of reading people better, when I’m close enough, and can feel their pulses”
Loud clapping from the doorway distracted the duo. They looked up to see Omo standing at the entrance, still clapping. Her fitted, black knee level skirt and a turtle neck long sleeve top made her look more mature. Her natural hair neatly packed at the back, “Wooooow!” Omo stressed, remaining in her spot, “read? Close enough? Feel their pulses?” She smirked.
“What are you doing here?” Okis asked, as she took few steps further into the study, “aren’t you supposed to be with Ansa?”
“I was with him”, Omo smiled, mischievously, ” but then I left him briefly to go get his football from his room. Well, innocent me, I was walking past, on my own, when I saw a lovely sight. Mr. Okis, owner of the biggest mansion in the region, at the verge of kissing the new girl”, she chuckled.
“There was no kiss”, Valerie defended, stepping further away from Okis.
“I know dear. I said on the verge. I didn’t say it happened”,
“Get out of my study. You know this place is off limits to you”, Okis ordered, returning behind his desk
“Why? So you can rape her, again?”
“What madness are you talking about?” Okis was really pissed. Omo must have heard what Valerie said about men haven had their way with her, and he was even more angry she had to repeat it, like it was ad interesting or funny topic, “have I raped her before? We were having a conversation before you interrupted us”.
“Ha ha ha ha”, Omo mocked him with her laughter. And Valerie saw Okis clench his teeth and fist. She remembered then , Omo had said he killed his wife. If Omo continued to annoy the master, he may grow very angry and launch an assault.
“I’m sorry about this”, she looked at Okis, “we will leave now”.
“We?” Omo asked, brows raised.
“Yes. We.” Valerie frowned, she made her way out of the study, but not without pulling Omo along with her.
“Let go of me!”, Omo pulled free of Valerie’s grip as soon as they got into the passage, “you don’t know the history that stands between me and Okis. So don’t interfere!”
“Interfere?” Valerie was pissed, “last time I checked, Okis is our employer. You were pissing him off. Two options Omo. Either you’d have gotten sacked, or he’d have killed you. Just as he killed his wife”.
“Wha…what are you talking about?” Omo chuckled, “I cannot be fired, Valerie. Can’t you see?” She was serious now, “I’m in love with Okis. He has been in love with me too. We fuck each other every night. And you, you almost stole him from me by almost allowing him kiss you”.
It was Valerie’s turn to be confused. She frowned, turned around and wiped invincible sweat from her forehead, before facing Omo again, “you’re in love with our employer?”
“Yes”, Omo replied. Chins up, “and you have no idea for how long”.
“I don’t care how long. You told me yourself, he killed his wife. Why then will you be mixed up with him in such a way? You want to die too?”
“Well, I prefer he kills me, than I see both of you in such a compromising position again.”, Omo replied, “I don’t hate you, Valerie. I am not like Ms. Grace. But if you go near Okis again and even try to kiss him, you wouldn’t like the kind of enemy I’ll become”.
“Relax. There’s nothing going on between me and Mr. Okis”, Valerie sighed, “If you’re truly in love with him. That’s a death wish. But if you continue to want him, I’ll stay out of your way, and never go near him again. Not that I want him anyway. Go on with your every night sexcapade. I only hope not to wake up to your dead body”, she matched off to the kitchen. Hopefully, Ms. Grace would allow her be useful.
Oh. No. She didn’t bother with the food or setting of the table. She just picked up the long rubber broom and started to sweep. From room to room, the quarters upstairs and downstairs. Sweeping and dusting took longer than she had expected.
She was done with cleaning up and was finally having breakfast quietly at the kitchen table, when Ms. Grace walked in, announcing that the tailor was around to take her measurement, and Valerie was to meet him and Mr. Okis, at the library, immediately.
“Please not yet”, Valerie put down her fork, “Can you please tell the tailor I’m freshening up? My body stinks”, she pleaded.
“And since when did I become your errand girl?” Ms. Grace frowned.
“You’re not my errand girl, ma. I’m only pleading for a favour. Whatever wrong I’ve done to you, please forgive me. I don’t want to continue to be at logger heads with you. Please”.
Ms. Grace was quiet for a while, observing her. Then she sighed, throwing her hands up in resignation. “I do not hate you, Valerie. I just don’t trust you. At least not yet”.
“But why?” Valerie was confused, “have I stolen something? Have I lied against someone? Have I done som..”
“No. But I have my eyes on you”.
“Phew!” Valerie sighed. Subsequently, she got to her feet and started to clear the table.
“You’re not going to finish your food?” Ms. Grace frowned, “that’s waste, and we forbid it in this house”.
“I don’t feel hungry anymore”, she explained, “‘I’ll keep it for later”.
“Ok then. I’ll tell Mr. Okis you’re freshening up and you would be with them shortly”.
Valerie smiled, “thanks you”.
“You’re welcome. But only this once. I’m still not your errand girl”.
Valerie’s smile broadened, as she watched Ms. Grace leave the kitchen. Whatever Okis whispered to her earlier was working. Sure, she was still a tough woman. But at least, she was sure, from the expression she caught on the elderly woman’s face, that they will become good friends.
Valerie’s poured her pepper soup in a plastic container and kept it in the fridge. She washed up, then ran to the bathroom to freshen up.
She had just finished zipping up the ancient gown Ms. Grace left on her bed, when she heard someone rap at the door.
“Yes?”, she rushed to open it, forgetting her hair was a mess.
Okis stood, expressionless, as usual, but taking in her tangled hair.
“Oh. Sir”, Valerie straightened up, fully aware of how terrible she must look. And now it was there again. That butterfly feeling in her stomach. “I’m… I was just finishing up. Ready… to take my measurement”, she managed, before stepping out of her room, into the passage.
“With your hair like that?” Okis asked, still taking in her appearance.
“Well”, she toughed her hair, even roughened it some more, “he’s only taking my measurement. I’m not going for a fashion show”.
Okis stifled a laugh. “As you wish, Miss Valerie. Meet the tailor in the library. I’ll join you shortly. I have some personal effects I’ll like to collect from one of the cabinets in your room. If you don’t mind”.
“No”, she shook her head, “I don’t. This is your house after all”.
Her words didn’t go down well with him. Despite being the master of the house, he had never tried to intrude on the privacy of his workers. “If I’m intruding on your privacy, please let me know. I’ll go. It doesn’t matter that I own the house”.
“No. You’re not”, she was sincere, “I’ll just go and take my measurement”.
“Thank you. I’ll try not to leave a mess. Will it be possible for us to talk, later in the evening?
Danger alerts sparked in Valerie’s head. Evening? Talk? “What are we going to talk about?”, she asked, hoping it was nothing that would cause Omo to say, she was stealing Okis from her. Besides, she knew how she reacted to him. And if he laid only a finger on her, she’d give in to his pressure. Wouldn’t it have been better to avoid him?
“I want us to talk about what you said, earlier. About your experience with dangerous men, and they having their way with you”.
Valerie sighed, and looked away.
“I know it is a sensitive topic”, Okis continued, “but I’ve learnt, over the years, Miss. Valerie, that a problem shared, is a problem solved. See our discussion like a therapy session”.
Valerie’s sigh deepened. She played with her fingers, looking everywhere, except him. And then she made to talk. But stopped.
“If you’re not comfortable discussing that part of your life with me, its ok. We don’t have to discuss”.
Too late. Just as he was speaking, an idea dropped in her heart. Why not use the opportunity to find out if Omo’s story was correct. Did Okis, a man that was strange and seem kind at the same time, really kill his wife? If he did, why was Omo so much in love with a murderer? Or did she say what she said, only to keep her from the boss?
But again, there was the experience she had in the kitchen. Going into a trance and reliving her nightmare. That was real. Not fake. But all the same. She had to find out. If her heart was going to keep doing a number on her everytime she was face to face with him, then it was better she got to know him too.
“No. It is ok”, she finally looked up at him, “I will talk about my experiences, as long as you agree, that you’ll also share your own personal experiences”.
His lips curved into a smile, “a bargain then”.
“Yes. A bargain”.
“Agreed. As long as you ask, I’ll tell”.
“Ok”, she smiled, “let me take my measurement”.
She left without another word, hands on her stomach, as if trying to rub away the butterfly feelings in it. Okis affected her. She could not deny it, and she did not know why. But then, she did not know she affected him too. For he stood in the passage and followed her with his eye, until she disappeared behind the curtains covering the exit.
He sighed, leaned against the room door and looked upward.
To be continued…
©Karo Oforofuo. July 2017. All rights reserved
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