Elaine breathes deeply, trying to still the pounding of her heart. She descends slowly to the living-room where Effe is waiting. Effe turns from the aquarium she has been staring emptily at, and faces her friend as she comes down the last stairs. Effe is dressed for the office in a rather beautiful dark-blue suit that enhances her beautiful skin. Her eyes are dark with pain, and she looks very hurt indeed. Elaine stops and looks at her best friend warily.
I know, Elaine. Chris told me.
And he told you he didn’t rape me, didn’t he?
Did he, Elaine? Did he really?
Elaine walks towards Effe, and she stares at her, and a moment later she drops to her knees.
I’m guilty of keeping my relationship with Chris a secret, Effe. I’m very, very sorry, but at the time I didn’t want to destroy your happiness when I saw how much you loved him. When I realized it was you he was going to marry, it was too late to tell you. Your happiness was important to me. Effe, I was wrong, but I did it for you. Please forgive me. Effe turns away from her. She is hurt, and she fights to keep the tears away.
Get up from the floor, Elaine.
Elaine stands up slowly. She walks to Effe and takes her hand in both of hers. She looks shame-faced as she speaks.
You have to believe me, Effe, please.
I trusted you, Elaine. You were like a sister to me. You were my bridesmaid, not Eyram. But all along as you stood beside me at the altar you were hurting over Chris!
(inhaling to keep the tears away)
I admit I was hurting, yes, but I had to do everything to make your marriage work. That night I promised to bring him to you, the night you found him raping me, he was very high on alcohol and hard drugs. He begged me, telling me he wanted to sleep with me one last time, I refused. I called you from the bathroom, and when I went back to the room he pounced on me, and raped me. That’s the truth, Effe, and nothing but the truth!
Effe rubs her forehead. She still stares at Elaine as if she just cant’ take it all in.
Chris was talking about some conspiracies, Elaine, as if I knew something about what happened. I pressed him, but he said nothing, but for a moment I could see there was more. Something he really wanted to say. Is that all, Elaine, or there’s more? This is your chance to come clean, because he also told me about how you used to love violent sex, and how it wasn’t rape at all because that’s exactly how you wanted it. You better come clean now, Elaine.
We’re closer than even twin sisters can ever be, you and I, and I’m telling you the undiluted truth now, Effe. He tore off my clothes and raped me. If you want, let me confront him in your presence, and listen to what he will say, Effe. Why do you think I hate him so much? He was my former boyfriend, yes, but when I told him I wasn’t going to sleep with him, he should have understood, and not forced himself on me. I couldn’t do that to you, Effe. I can never do that!
Elaine takes out a handkerchief and dabs rather unsuccessfully at the tears running down her face.
I hope so, Elaine. But know that truth never stays hidden. Don’t let me find out there’s more to this from somewhere else, okay? If I should ever find out you lied to me now, I’ll never forgive you.
Effe turns and heads quickly for the entrance. Elaine stares after her, smiling rather sadly. And there is unbridled profound relief on her face…and a subtle twist of cruelty to her lips.
It is a Saturday.
Grand opening of JUNIOR’S.
A month has passed like a whirlwind.
Madam Didi had begged Chris to take on some of her dedicated staff. Chris has retained three counter girls, four waiters, two waitresses and four chefs. Eyram had graciously advanced him some money to design the white, blue and red food packs and polythene bags. Effe had paid for the huge neon-lit signboard and one-week ingredient supply. The profiling of JUNIOR’S on HEARTBEAT TELEVISION had made the news spread like fire through a dry prairie.
Other news stations had come on board to do interviews, but Chris has refused to appear in any of them.
Surprisingly, a couple of non-governmental Christian organizations had agreed to provide new interior seats and tables, and also pay for a year’s car park rental.
Chris had been extremely nervous at first, detesting the whole idea of being a chef, but Junior had been with him constantly, and given him the needed strength. As the time drew nearer to the grand opening Chris had found himself getting caught in the euphoric excitement. The opening ceremony had been short but colourful. Some of the most influential people had turned up.
Junior had been allowed to say the prayers, and his passionate appeals to God to let his father succeed had moved many to tears.
Chris went to the kitchen, and supervised every step of the cooking. He started with four dishes for the day; noodles, banku and okra stew, jollof and potato fries… and of course salads.
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There is a CREAMS stand, where iced creams, smoothies, crushers and shakes of different flavours can be had. He waits anxiously as the orders begin to trickle in. And then things begin to really heat up! Suddenly, people that had already eaten are now coming back for ‘take-aways’, and soon there is pressure at the Drive-Through window.
VICTOR NYENKU, a young chef who is fast beginning to impress Chris, walks up to him as he is pouring raw fries out of a bag.
I haven’t seen such a crowd in all my four years of working here, Boss. I must admit, you have very sweet hands indeed. Look, I had my doubts at first, but now I think the TASTE BUDS restaurant is in serious trouble!
Chris looks at the young man, and they smile, and he nods.
Thank you, Victor. I think I like that.
Suddenly a young waiter enters the kitchen and goes straight to Chris.
Sir, please there’s a man in the restaurant. He says I should tell you to prepare him a picatonto salad! I tried telling him we don’t have it on the menu but he told me you know what it is, so I should tell you.
Chris freezes, and his face suddenly lights up! The only man who demanded ‘picatonto’ salad had been Chief Superintendent of Police, Jon Fii.
Go and tell him a picatonto salad is coming up pronto, Adamu!
Picatonto? What’s that, sir?
A speciality in prison, boy. Come and learn!
Soon Chris has the salad ready.
He dishes it in the best salad bowl, and serves the order on a tray. He picks up the tray.
Sir! You’re not serving yourself, are you? Please, let me take it
This order I serve myself, Victor.
Chris carries the tray to the eatery, and he pauses with sudden shock when he sees that it is tightly packed!
Adamu sees him and utters a cry of shock and fear.
He rushes forward to take the tray, but Chris stops him.
Where’s the gentleman, Adamu.
Table nine, please.
Okay, fine. I’ve got this, Adamu. You can serve another table.
When he walks through the restaurant he sees people looking at him with something approaching awe. He sees children and adults digging in, eating with real relish, and he sees that most plates are completely empty except for bones, and suddenly he feels a certain kind of exhilaration he has never thought he will feel. Amir, you old dog, thank you very much for forcing me to learn the fine arts of the kitchen!
Jon Fii is sitting at table nine, and he is not alone. Baaba Brooks is with him.