He smiled and dropped the knife.
“My name is Stephan.”- He drooled.
He had a lovely voice that made her fear disappear.
“Let me take you home!”
“I don’t have any place to go to!” she nearly cried.
“It’s alright! Let’s just go home.”
On their way back home, Stephan told Anike that the condo next to his was vacant and she could take it if she wanted.
‘Really?’ Anike asked, eyes wide with delight.
‘But I don’t have anything to furnish the apartment with.’
Stephan chuckled. ‘Don’t worry,’ he told her, ‘all apartments are furnished.’
‘How much is the rent?’
‘Don’t worry about it.’ He replied with a wave of his hand.
‘I will worry about it.’ Anike declared. ‘I’ll be earning a wage at the café so I’ll pay my rent.’
He glanced at her and smiled. ‘Okay, if you insist, rent is 30 Euros per month.’
Anike slowed down while she tried to convert the amount to naira. It amounted to about 7 thousand naira. Not bad, she thought. She hastened her pace and caught with Stephan again.
‘I’ll pay it.’ She told him.
Stephan nodded. He had actually lied to her for a good reason. The rent was actually 100 Euros but his friend at the café was going to pay her only 150 Euros per month. He’d have preferred it if she didn’t pay at all as her wage would be barely enough to feed and clothe her but she seemed to derived a kind of pride from being responsible for herself.
So he made a compromise with himself to quote her the bogus rent. He glanced at her again but she seemed to be deep in thought so he let her be until they reached their building.
Anike started working at the café the next day. Her job was to clear the tables until she picked up a few words of Italian. Her new boss promised her she would be promoted to waitress as soon as she knew the language. Anike was determined to learn fast as the promotion meant an additional 50 Euros to her salary. She vowed to work hard and save as much as she could.
She signed a contract with herself, shook hands, swore to God. She needed the money badly. Her plan was to work for about five years before she went back to Nigeria where she would immediately enroll herself into the University. She knew she would be in her twenties by then but she had no other choice.
She wondered if she would get tips as well. Maybe not, she told herself, these are students so most of them wouldn’t be particularly loaded.
Three years later, Anike was in charge of Freddo café. Davide had graduated a year before and now had a chain of coffee shops all over the town. She now spoke Italian fluently and was popular with the regulars of the café. She looked around one more time as she locked the door of the shop.
She dropped the keys in her handbag and hung it on her shoulder. She glanced at her wrist watch. 10:15. Stephan will kill me today, she thought as she walked briskly through Via Cavour. It was familiar to her now and her apartment at Stephan’s building felt like home.
She knocked on his door and he opened it almost immediately.
‘You said you would be home by 10.’ He accused. He was visibly annoyed.
‘I’m so sorry, dear but I had a group of drunken guys that just wouldn’t leave. I had to threaten to call the police on them before they left.’ She explained. She dropped her bag on his bed and hugged him.
Stephan’s anger evaporated. He hugged her back for a few seconds before letting go.
‘Mario has called twice already. He thinks I don’t want to come. He told me he might have to order his men to shoot me.’ He said, trying without success to keep a straight face.
Mario was his late father’s closest friend. He was the head of the mafia in the city. He had just built a casino and in the business district of the city and had invited Stephan for the opening night.
‘If this is the same Mario you told me about, then he wouldn’t do that in a million years. I’ll just take a minute to shower and change.’ She said. She grabbed her bag and rushed to her room.
Fifteen minutes later, she was ready. She looked stunning in a shimmering black dress with gold purse and stilettos. She had combed her hair out and it tumbled down to her shoulders.
‘You look beautiful, as always.’ Stephan said in Italian.
‘Thank you.’ She replied in English, curtseying.
They got into the waiting taxi and the driver drove off. They now spoke in both English and Italian, switching between the languages as it suited whoever was speaking. Anike loved it as she now spoke perfect Italian and Stephan spoke perfect English. They had helped each other improve over the years and she felt good whenever they conversed.
They were at their destination in fifteen minutes. It was a massive building housing a casino and a hotel. It had been acknowledged as one of the best in Italy with a five diamond award. Anike had never gambled in her life and she didn’t approve of it but she couldn’t help but admire the beautiful edifice. She couldn’t hear the din of voices speaking in Italian form the entrance of the casino. Stephan immediately started looking around for Mario and soon spotted him near a blackjack table. He pointed him out to Anike. He was a tall man with a full beard and silver hair. Although he didn’t look dangerous, Anike could picture him as the head of the mafia. He had an authoritative look about him and looked like he could make you do whatever he wanted simply by asking. He tapped him on the shoulder went they got to him.
Mario hugged Stephan as soon as he turned around. Anike stood off a little to the side and watched the way the older greeted Stephan. They obviously liked each other very much.
‘It’s been far too long since I saw you.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you come to my place anymore?’
‘I’m sorry, Mario,’ Stephan replied, ‘you know how school work is.’
‘But you’re through now, aren’t you?’
‘Maybe you will come and work for me.’
‘Yeah, right.’ Stephan replied cheekily.
Working for Mario was a long running joke between the two of them.
‘And who is this beautiful lady?’ Mario asked.
‘This is my girlfriend, Anike.’
‘Anike.’ Mario repeated slowly, taking her hand. He touched the back of her hand to his lips.
Anike smiled. Strangely, she wasn’t afraid of him in the least and could see why Stephan liked him so much.
‘There’s a buffet down the hall. Find something to eat and drink. I have to circulate so I’ll be with you shortly.’ He told them.
Anike and Stephan walked down the hall arm in arm. They were passing by the slot machines when they saw a guy they both knew slotting coins into one of them. They stopped to say hi.
‘This thing has eaten up all my coins,’ he said, shaking his head, ‘maybe you should try, Anike, you look lucky.’
They all laughed as the guy went towards the buffet table.
‘Do you have a coin?’ Anike asked Stephan.
He checked his pockets and came up with one. He gave it to her and she slotted it into the machine.
‘I don’t know how this thing works so let me know if I win, okay?’
Stephan smiled. ‘Okay.’
She looked at the display, watching all sorts of diagrams rolling off and on. Then she heard a shrill bell. She looked up at Stephan. ‘Did I spoil their machine?’ she asked, eyes wide.
‘No way!’ Stephan shouted incredulously. ‘You just won ten million Euros.’
Anike’s eyes opened wider until she had to shut them because too much air was entering them. She couldn’t believe her ears. Surely, there was some mistake. She stared at the screen, the diagrams were now still. She had never thought of herself as being lucky. By now people had gathered and were clapping. Mario soon came around to present her with a big promotional cheque for ten million Euros. A photographer appeared and took a picture of her and Mario with the cheque.
‘I told you to come and eat, not take my money.’ Mario joked.
Anike burst into laughter. She laughed so hard and for so long that she soon started crying.
To be continued…