Buki woke up by 4.30a.m and did his press-ups as usual, a hundred of them. 5a.m was morning devotion. 6a.m was quiet time. 7a.m, personal hygiene and clean-up, and 8a.m, work starts. He had followed the schedule for two months without fail. Like every other thing he did, it had become a part of him.
Along the line, he had moved into his room in the servant’s quarters, which was almost as comfortable as the room he’d been in. He had a television set, howbeit a smaller one. He also had air-conditioning and a small refrigerator. The mattress however was not as hard as he would have liked, so he slept on the floor. Still, he was very grateful to God and his employer. Throughout the period he stayed in the main house, he noticed the way Modele avoided him. He had respected her attitude and kept out of her way.
During morning devotion, he noticed Modele’s melancholic mood. Toro presided over the one hour routine, before they all dispersed to their different duties. While the others went in for breakfast, Buki resumed work. He had stabilized the garden and now set out to work on the fruit orchard. He had gotten the piece of land cleared at the back of the house the previous day.
He was half-way through with the nursery mid-day, when Toro walked over from the kitchen.
“Miss Modele asked that you should buy popcorn for her,” she said handing him some money and the key to Modele’s Mercedes CE240.
He wiped sweat off his face. “Anywhere in particular?”
“The Palms. That’s where she likes her popcorn from.”
“Ok. Give me a minute and I’ll just change up.” He straightened and mopped more sweat from his face.
Since he started work, utility man had been added to his work description. He did all the shopping for the house, sometimes with Toro or Modele, many times alone.
The Palms, in all its glory stood in the heart of Lekki. It was a new mall recently opened and the success of it was tremendous. Buki walked smartly to an ice-cream stand where popcorn was also being sold. In all the weeks of working for Modele Eiba, this was his first time of running this sort of errand. He had never even seen her eating popcorn before.
“I need popcorn for N500,” he said, looking at the plump sales girl who chewed noisily.
“Salt or sugar? Color or plain? Honey, spice, flavour? With peanuts?” She bombarded Buki who stood numb.
“Ur, I don’t know.”
“You have to decide. A queue is forming behind you.” She blew a big bubble and made a loud ‘clonk’ with it.
“Ok. Sugar, ur and with peanuts,” he said.
The girl served him so fast, he was impressed. Within seconds, he was back on the road with hot sugared popcorn mixed with sugar-coated peanuts.
Modele was on the patio when he got back, dressed in pink flowing v-neck caftan with frivolous v-shaped sleeves, her face bare of any make-up, she looked even more beautiful than he had ever seen her. She stood by herself, gazing out into empty space, lost in thought. It took a second or two for her to realize he was there. He couldn’t help but wonder why she was so absent-minded. He cleared his throat and she stiffened.
“The popcorn, Miss,” he said. He had looked to hand it over to Toro but had not found her nearby when he came in.
“Put it on the table,” she said without looking at his direction.
He did as she bid and turned round to leave, hoping to find out what was disturbing her from Toro. He had hardly left the private sitting room when he heard her shriek.
“How dare you buy sugared popcorn?” Modele screamed at the top of her voice and stomped into the beautifully furnished room with a rage he had never seen before. “I hate popcorn with sugar. I hate peanuts. Peanuts stink!” she yelled.
Buki stopped in his tracks and turned to face her in time to get a direct hit in the face as Modele flung the popcorn bag right at him. The contents spilled out and fell to the floor. Toro ran in, Buki guessed, from the laundry where she had probably been monitoring the progress of the washing machine.
“I sent for salted, salted, salted popcorn. Does that sound like sugar or peanuts?” She faced him, her eyes flashing dangerously.
“I’m sorry.” Buki stood dumbstruck, humiliated. “I must have heard wrong,” he stammered.
“You don’t hear wrong when I send instructions to you. If you’re tired of this job, I will not hesitate to relieve you of it. Get out!”
Buki blinked once. “I’ll get another one for you.”
“I don’t need any popcorn from you. Get out of my house!”
“Yes, Miss,” he said quietly, visibly hurt and embarrassed. He turned to leave.
“Pack this popcorn out of here, Mister,” Modele snapped, breathing heavily.
Buki turned and bent over to pick the popcorn splattered on the floor. He had to pick the sticky thing one at a time. Modele stood, arms akimbo, watching him, a strange expression on her face. When he was through, he stood, and slowly limped away with the pack.
Buki dropped the offensive popcorn in the waste bin in the kitchen on his way out, still dazed. He had never seen anyone so angry. And for what? He went back to tending the fruit nursery and about an hour later, looked up to see Toro staring down at him.
“Hey,” he murmured.
“I feel like such a jerk, keeping quiet there while she berated you.”
“You did exactly what I would.” He sat back on his bent knee and looked up at her.
“Thank you for covering up for me,” she said solemnly. “I’m really sorry. She did specify salted popcorn. I should know, anyway. It’s the only way she eats popcorn,” she said, rubbing her hands together. “I’m sorry for the humiliation… I do admire the way you comported yourself. And for… for covering my error.”
He smiled easily. “Let’s take it as one of those things that come with the job description. I should not be offended.”
She refused to catch on. “Ever since the break-up, she’s had these occasional tantrums. Most directed at others, not me really. She knew I never really liked Jude. The feeling was mutual.” She sat down on the low garden stool Buki sometimes used when resting.
“You can help her by doing the right thing as much as possible,” he reprimanded softly, resuming his work.
Toro moaned. “I try. The anger is always just below the surface.” She sighed. “You see, she has never mourned that relationship. Never allowed herself the liberty that comes from crying.” She shook her head. “She tries to show the whole world she can cope and she doesn’t miss him. In actual fact, she’s dying inside.”
Buki stopped his motions and looked at her. “She could be in trouble. Does she have friends? I haven’t noticed any around.”
“Lots. Frighteningly. She parties now like her life depends on it. Every night, Modele drives out to town and only God knows…” She sighed. “I didn’t know how to tell you, I never sleep till she comes in after midnight most days.”
“That’s careless of you, Toro. She’s ruining herself. You could tell her parents or someone, just to stop her,” he said. “It’s my job to keep her from harm for goodness’ sake.”
“I guess you’re right. Thanks anyway.” She stood. “She asked me to tell you she wants you to escort her tonight to a friend’s party. Be ready by 7.”
He raised his eyebrows, surprised. Toro was almost as queer as her mistress. “Any other info? Dress code? Anything I should know?”
Toro smiled. “Just look as nice as you can. I won’t make the same mistake twice today.”
“Look as nice as I can.” Buki chuckled, pondering on what that could mean.
Toro squeezed her face. “You have what to wear don’t you?”
Buki smiled. “I’ll find something.” He resumed his work. “Help your mistress let out the steam.”
“She feels she can put it behind her. I know she can’t. Right now, it’s only another man in her life that can help her. But she’s blocking every man from getting close.” Toro gazed into space, oblivious that Buki had frozen in reaction to her analogy.
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