Nathan honked twice as he backed out of the fenced semi-detached two storey building into the street. He swerved quickly to avoid a pedestrian, who swore at him, even when he was obviously the one at fault.
“Yeah, thank you very much too for not watching where you were going.” He shook his head sternly at the laughing Valerie. “Not that funny.”
Joining the stream of traffic moving out of the Ogba axis, he sped towards Ikeja.
Valerie bit her lips to stop herself laughing. “No, it’s not really. But you know it actually amusing how impatient drivers and pedestrians alike are in Lagos. I mean it’s crazy.”
He grinned. “And it’s what makes driving in Lagos really fun.”
“It is though, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I really miss the rush and madness whenever I’m out of town and all that.”
As they drove along the Mobolaji Bank Anthony way, he pointed to the right towards the Ikeja GRA residential area. “I live somewhere there.”
“Ha, a member of the crème de la crème club, I see.” She teased.
“You know us… just regular people, only snootier.”
She laughed. “So you’ve lived there very long?”
“Us?” Nathan shook his head, cutting into the ever busy Ikorodu expressway. “Not always, we actually moved there only about twelve years ago. “And you, you’ve lived in Lagos always?” He asked, noticing the way her eyes briefly clouded before she shook her head.
“Not always. Long enough though to appreciate the infrastructural developments that have made Lagos a less cumbersome city to live in.”
Nathan nodded his head. He’d noticed the clever way she’d changed the subject. There was something curious about a lady who avoided talking about herself.
As they made their way towards the Island, their conversation swapped from developmental changes, to politics, sports, to entertainment and just about everything else.
Nathan listened mostly with a quiet attentive pleasure as Valerie, letting her guards down talked on every issue. Her intelligent comments and debates clearly showing her off to be versed in so many subjects.
Finally he was parking the car in what appeared to be a residential area in the Karimu Ikotun area of Victoria Island. Valerie frowned, wondering if they were having dinner at the home of some friends of his. She wasn’t really sure she felt comfortable with the idea.
“It’s always a little difficult at this time of the night to get a parking space inside.” He explained turning off the engine. “But no worries.” He reassured misinterpreting the worried lines creasing her brows. “The car is perfectly safe and secure here.”
She smiled vaguely, difficult to find a parking space?
What the heck – did his friends entertain so often then? She sighed and snapped off her seat belt, picking up her clutch bag from her laps, she turned to open the door. But he’d beat her to it, swiftly opening the door for her to get down. Her smile brightened, well something’s got to be said for this courteous gentleman.
What she’d assumed to be a residential home turned out to be a restaurant hidden away in this top notch part of the Island.
Inside the sophisticated, clean, tidy and classy restaurant, they were ushered to their table by a smiling Waiter. Valerie’s eyes took in the elegant atmosphere as Nathan spoke in quiet tones with the Waiter.
The restaurant was very quiet. There was no music playing in the background, and guests spoke in quiet undertones. The lighting was dim and low, giving the room a warm romantic vibe. Valerie silently wondered if that was why he’d chosen this place for their first date.
“One complain I have about this place is the absolute lack of music.” Nathan commented as he watched Valerie’s bright eyes scanning the area. “I must say it’s also one thing I enjoyed about Chop N’ Munch – the cool background music.”
She turned impressed eyes back to him. “Yes, it’s quiet but I guess it’s what makes it a real hot spot for couples.” She immediately noted what she had said. “I mean … em … not that we are a couple …” She stuttered. “Obviously friends come here too.”
Nathan simply grinned.
“Ah, so do you come here often?” She asked trying to cover the awkwardness she was feeling.
“I do think this must be my third time here.” He smiled. “First time was with a couple of friends and business associates. And then for a dinner date with my mum and Toinette.”
“Well, it looks like a really cool spot.”
“It is. They are known for their quality steak from South Africa.”
The waiter returned with a steaming platter of suya and another platter of what looked like chicken sausages.
“Dig in.” Nathan invited. “This here is involtini di pollo, it’s an Italian delicacy and tastes great.”
Valerie nodded and as he’d instructed, dug in.
“You must forgive me but I’ve already ordered for us. But trust me you will enjoy everything I ordered.” He apologized throwing a chunk of suya into his mouth.
“If they taste anything like this … involtini di pollo.” She looked enquiring at him to see if she pronounced it correctly, he nodded. “Then you are forgiven.” She had never known anything that tantalized her tastes buds so.
Dinner turned out to be a glorious experience of juicy and well flavoured dishes. Valerie had a great experience eating dishes, she’d never tasted before.
Not only was the meal a real delicious experience, it was fun too as Nathan turned out to be a man who enjoyed swapping dishes, he simply dug his fork into her plates and invited a laughing Valerie to do same.
Her culinary experience was finished off with a dessert of simply sizzling and yummy apple pie. And for Nathan, brownies which tasted great too when she’d dipped her fork into his plate for a tasteful.
“Hmm.” She savoured the sheer pleasure of apple pie seductively enticing her taste buds. “Damn, this is oh so delicious.” She moaned.
He grinned, enjoying the way her lips curved in pleasure. “It’s a favourite of mine too.”
She took another forkful. Savoured it, then looking up at him asked. “So tell me how did Elegance come to be?”
He took a sip of his wine. “You really want to hear such a boring story while having this amazing delicious pie?”
“Uh hmm. I do indeed. So go on and stop trying to evade the question.” She waved her fork at him in a playful manner.
“Okay.” He put up his hands in surrender. “But this apple pie does look yummy.” He took a pinch of her apple pie and laughed when she playfully smacked his hand with her fork.
“Okay, no more evasions.” He picked a paper napkin and wiped his mouth. “Elegance came to be through the hard work and determination of a young widow about twenty-nine years ago.”
“Twenty-nine years?” She repeated amazed. “I didn’t think Elegance was that old.”
“Well, it’s not really.” He shook his head twirling his wine glass. “It started out just as a nameless clothing store in a corner container shop at Ogba.”
“Actually, it all started after my father died when I was just four. I was really too young to remember, but somehow I sensed that there’d been trouble as pertaining the cause of his death and all. You know the usual Nigerian attitude toward a widow.”
He shook his head. “I was really too young to actually get what was happening but my mother explained later to me that my father’s brothers sort of ran her… and me too, out of our home. Then took over everything from her.”
“It must have been really hard for her.” Valerie murmured knowing first-hand how hard being ostracised can be.
“It was.” He nodded. “But mum was determined. Her family rented a two bedroom apartment for both of us somewhere inside Ogba.” He took a forkful of his brownie.
“With the little money she has, she bought a container, paid the first six months’ rent on a space. Then she hit Kontagora to buy second hand clothes to stock up the small container.” He watched the emotions flickering in her brown eyes – compassion, admiration.
“It wasn’t easy.” He continued. “But thanks to regular customers and friends she kept up. But it was actually Nana who gave us our first real break.”
“Duncan’s mum. Everyone calls her Nana. Not her real name though, kind of a pet name that stuck.” He explained.
“She and mum had gone from neighbours to customers and then best of friends, till date.” Nathan smiled. “You could say their friendship rubbed off on Duncan and me.”
“Anyways, Nana who had a small yet successful constructions and building material store –Dunc Hardware Store – offered to give mum a long term loan to expand her little business. Suffice to say that that loan had been the beginning of Tonia’s boutique which you now know as Elegance.”
“Elegance was first called Tonia’s boutique?”
“Uh hmm.” He finished off his brownie. “After my mum – Anthonia. It was still a small place, only more stylish, and selling only top grade second hand clothes and some new ones too.”
Nathan continued. “Tonia’s Boutique seemed to grow even faster, way faster than even mum had anticipated. She had to rent a bigger store and she moved from one sales girl to three.”
“And I’m guessing this is where your interest in fashion started, in that small boutique?” She took a sip of her wine.
“I’d like to think that my interest in clothes and fashion generally started from the little container store.” He smiled. “But it was at Tonia’s boutique it blossomed. He eyed the apple pie. “Have you lost interest in this?” Taking a forkful.
“No. And don’t touch it again.” She pointed her fork as warning at him. “Go on with the story.”
“Yes ma’am.” Nathan laughed.
He continued. Telling her how they’d gotten a bank loan that spiralled Tonia’s Boutique from just a side boutique at Ikeja into a glamorous fashion home with two stores in Lagos, one in Port Harcourt and another in Abuja. And in the last two years, they’d gone transnational, opening their first international store at Accra, Ghana.
“Remarkable story.” Valerie smiled truly impressed. “I think your mother is not just a determined woman but very courageous one too.”
He smiled. “Thanks.” He gestured to the waiter for their bill.
Valerie got to her feet, surprised that she wasn’t feeling so light on her feet, given the glasses of wine she’d had. They walked out of the restaurant, Nathan’s right hand on the small of her back.
Their drive back to Valerie’s apartment was done in a companionable atmosphere of teasing, jokes and laughter.
Nathan walked her to her door.
She pressed the doorbell, then turned back to him with a smile. “Thank you for a beautiful dinner. I had a really great time.”
“I had a great time too. And now that I’ve told you all my secrets, maybe next time we can talk about you?”
“A story about a fashion house hardly represents a secret.” Valerie debunked grinning. “I bet I can still dig out a few juicy bits if I tried harder.”
“Trying to know all my dark secrets, huh?” He shook his head, squinting his eyes at her. “No way. Next time lady, you will be doing the talking.”
They turned as the door slide open, “Welcome back people. Don’t just stand at the door, come in.” Kike smiled.
Nathan declined with a shake of his head. “Thank you but I’d better be heading home. Toinette is a hard ass and takes my curfew very seriously.” He touched Valerie’s hands very lightly and with a bow to Kike, turned and left.
Valerie watched as he went down the stairs.
“Stop gazing longingly after him, come right in and tell me all.” Kike ordered. “On my word, you are glowing!”
Valerie stepped past her into the living room. “We went to this place on the Island, Talindo Steakhouse… it was glorious. Best first date ever.” She giggled as her eyes sparkled.
“Oh my!” Kike rolled her eyes. “Tell me all, darling, spare no details.”
To be continued…