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Excerpt for The Girl with a Golden Smile by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Girl with a

Golden Smile



by

Elly Kamari







Copyright © 2019 Elly Kamari

All Rights Reserved



License Notes



This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or

given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please

purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not

purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to

Smashwords.com or your favourite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for

respecting the hard work of this author.



Characters in this book are fiction and figments of the author’s imagination.









Table of Contents



Part One - Raining

Part Two – Chocolate Cupcakes

Part Three – Meeting Again

Part Four - Choices

Part Five – Sweet Endings



Glossary:

Jiko – used for burning charcoal



Part 1: Raining

Thunder rumbled, dark clouds rolled in, large drops of rain drummed the iron sheet roof.

Nalia wondered if the creator was starting a band. The drops kept falling in fierce beats on the roof, like a doomsday rhythm.

She kept chopping onions, her eyes stinging. Tears slid down her cheeks.

Nalia wasn’t sure where the tears from the onions juice and the ones caused by sorrow met and melded.

Wiping her arm over her cheeks, she finished chopping the onions and put them in the cooking pot. Adding oil, she turned on the fire on the gas cooker and banged the pot on the stand.

No one could hear the noise anyway.

Taking a wooden cooking spoon from a drawer, her gaze lingered over the chopped vegetables laid out in bowls on the counter. Carrots, potatoes, green pepper, cilantro and tomatoes…she sighed.

There was no meat today.

He wasn’t going to be happy.

Nalia shrugged a short elegant movement of her slender shoulders. Yet, instead of relief, a heavy weight settled in her stomach.

Malik liked his meat.

The onions started sizzling in the pot and she stirred them, her gaze barely seeing the browning onions. Her thoughts were on her husband, Malik Kanda. They married early. She was eighteen and Malik twenty years old.

Children, really, none of them had known much about life then.

Seven years going and Malik had turned into a stranger. He had grown distrustful, edgy and over-ambitious.

It was his new job, Nalia thought.

The one he got a year ago.

Malik was managing a construction company for her uncle. The job paid good money. Her uncle told her Malik gained almost sixty thousand shillings every month. It was twice the amount from his previous job. Nalia felt happy for Malik then, thinking their home would grow, and benefit from the change in fortune. However, their lives only deteriorated.

The higher paycheck made Malik prideful, to the point where he paid for nothing in the house.

Nalia sighed and started adding vegetables to the onions. The peppers first, then the tomatoes, followed by the carrots and potatoes.

“What do I do?” she asked the sizzling vegetables.

Reaching for a container of mixed spices, Nalia sprinkled the right amount over the mix in the cooking pot.

Her thoughts returned to her latest dilemma. Malik’s indifference to the well-being of their house worried her. He never contributed to their expenses, yet he wanted to eat and sleep in comfort. He wanted neat clothes in his closet, good food and a clean house.

She catered to it all, leaving her funds stretched.

She was a primary school teacher. She taught English in class six at the local primary school. Her salary was a quarter of what Malik made. Yet she paid rent, the house bills: water and electricity, as well as bought food for the house.

The end of the month was pure hell. She could barely afford things in the house yet she had to meet Malik’s standards.

Covering the stew, Nalia picked up the plates and spoons she had set aside earlier. She went to their small living room and started setting the small table they used for dinner.

There was no meat today.

Nalia’s hand shook as she placed a spoon on Malik’s plate.

Thunder rumbled in the distance and she pressed a hand to her chest. She did not want a beating tonight, but the harder it rained, the more the rain rapped on the roof, the faster her hopes vanished.

Malik’s bad temper thrived on nights like these…rainy nights when no one would hear her scream.

The front door opened and she froze, her gaze flying to the man entering the house. He was soaking wet.

Malik slammed the door closed and Nalia’s heart squeezed tight in her chest. The moment his dark gaze settled on her, her blood ran cold.

****

“Damn it.”

Nicholas slapped the steering wheel and peered out the windshield of his car. He couldn’t see in the thick rain. For a moment, he wondered if pulling over was better. At least then, he would be sure of not taking a wrong turn.

The wipers on his black Isuzu pickup worked overtime, trying to keep the windshield clear.

The clock on the dashboard said it was almost nine o’clock in the evening. The map on his phone said he had thirty more minutes before he would arrive at the Villa Matiga. The sixty-year-old house he bought from a retiring expatriate. He wanted to renovate the villa and put it up for rent. His third jaunt into the real estate industry. So far, he hadn’t gone wrong, but this late night trips were murder.

“I should have started out earlier,” he murmured.

He was a lawyer by profession and worked for a successful law firm in the City of Nairobi. The pay was good the lifestyle exhausting, but he was happy. At thirty-two, his life was on the right track. To a point, he thought when he remembered his girlfriend had gotten married a week ago to one of his wealthy clients.

The bitch, he thought.

She strung him along for three whole years while she worked hard to hook a bigger fish. She was now a Runda estate housewife. Nicholas couldn’t help hoping she got fat and ugly soon. He cursed under his breath.

She turned him into a bitter bastard.

He drove over a bump too fast. The map on his phone said he needed to make a right turn soon.

Peering outside, he frowned when all he saw were trees and bushes.

Great, Villa Martiga had to exist in the middle of nowhere.

Well, it wasn’t really anywhere. The Ngong area was turning into a prestigious area to live.

He braked hard when the dirt road he was supposed to take appeared to the right. Thank God, there were no vehicles behind him. He was driving like a maniac tonight. Taking the right turn, excitement swept through him and he pressed the gas pedal harder, eager for warmth.

A dark shadow streaked onto the road, and he hit the brakes in panic, afraid he was going to hit the woman ahead.

***



Part 2 – Chocolate Cupcakes

“You!” Nicholas yelled when he got out of his car. “Do you have a death wish?”

The woman in the rain didn’t speak. She wore a bruise on her left eye, and there was blood on her pink blouse. Nicholas frowned, peering into the dark trees on each side of the road.

Did someone mug her?

Lord, was she a decoy?

He had heard stories of hijackers making a plot to deceive unsuspecting drivers.

“Help me,” she said, before his paranoia could take root.

Nicholas cursed when she started to fall and he reached out to catch her before she hit the muddy ground. Peering at her face, more curses escaped when he realized she had passed out.

“What the hell are you doing?” Nicholas asked himself, as he drove through the rain.

His clothes were soaked and muddy thanks to the passed out woman in the passenger seat. Instead of driving back to the main road, and a hospital, he was headed to the villa, against his better judgment.

Shaking his head, Nicholas decided it was the rain, the thunder, the mud, the fucking non-visibility…

He had never been as happy to see the shadow of a house, as he was when he saw the looming dark gates ahead.

Nicholas stopped his car, running out in the rain to go open the gates. His loafers slid on the wet grass, he ran back to the car, double soaked. This night was turning into a shit fest.

Thirty minutes later, Nicholas sat on an old armchair, watching the strange woman he had saved. He had found an old faded red blanket in a closet, and covered her with it. She was beautiful, in a rustic way.

He was used to women who valued looks: high-end style, down to fake eyelashes. It was interesting to have saved a woman who looked like she didn’t know what lip-gloss was. She shivered under the blanket, and gave a soft sigh.

The bruise on her left eye down to her cheek shone in the light.

His phone buzzed, and he reached for it like a lifeline.

“What am I reading?” his best friend asked. “You have a woman in that old creaky house? How is that a bad thing?”

“She jumped out of nowhere, in the rain,” Nicholas said. “She looks beat up. She has a bruise on her cheek.”

“Why didn’t you drive to a hospital?” Eli asked.

“It’s raining.” Nicholas thought that excuse sounded hollow, but it was the truth. He didn’t want to drive in that mess outside. “You’re a doctor, advise me what to do.”

“Ah ha,” Eli said with a chuckle. “You’ve always been impulsive. This falls under ‘shit-Nick-would-do’.”

“Stop making fun of me. What do I do now? It’s almost ten o’clock at night.”

Eli sighed on the other end.

“I guess you keep her overnight. I’ll drive out there in the morning and check on her if you like.”

“Would you?” Nicholas asked. “You’re the best, Eli.”

“You’ll owe me.”

“Yeah, add it to my tab.” Nicholas sighed. “What do I need to do? She’s shivering.”

“Keep her dry and warm.” Eli laughed. “That shouldn’t be too hard.”

Nicholas ended the call and dropped his cell phone on the table. He hoped Eli was right about keeping the woman dry.

That was all he could do for her, he thought.

Getting up, Nicholas stretched his arms above his head, the muscles on his shoulders protesting. He was tired. The day was already too long. He dropped his hands and looked around the old house. The electricity was on, thank goodness for that. Despite the complication on the couch, he had managed to purchase a damn good-looking house.

Nicholas decided everything would be fine after a shower and a good night’s sleep.

****

Nalia woke with a start. It was the chirping birds. The last time she heard chirping birds, she had been in her mother’s house in the country. Nostalgia filled her, and she lay still staring at the unfamiliar ceiling.

Clutching the thin blanket over her, Nalia winced at the familiar sting on her left cheek and the pain in her eye. Malik’s gift last night when she tried to explain why there was no meat in his plate. The bastard was obsessed with meat. He didn’t taste anything else, but meat. Nalia sat up to escape her anger.

She lost her mind last night.

Crazy, she thought.

She had taken the stew she cooked and flung it at Malik in anger. When he screamed in shock, she ran outside in the pouring rain and kept running like a mad woman.

Right into the angry man with the black pickup truck, Nalia remembered, swinging her feet to the wooden floor.

Nalia shook her head, and rubbed her eyes with care. She sighed and got up, looking around the elegant living room. It looked straight out of the movies: nice neat chairs, wide windows, everything seemed so…expensive.

Straight out of her dreams, Nalia thought.

Her gaze dropped to her stained shirt, and her muddy jeans and bare feet. She was seriously out of place. Her insanity had taken her down a rabbit hole she didn’t quite understand.

Smelling her shirt, she decided to wander and find out if the elegant house had a place to clean up before she met her rescuer.

****

The sweet scent of baking cake woke Nicholas. His stomach rumbled reminding him that he skipped dinner in lieu of travel. He ate one sandwich from Subway before getting on the road. He threw off the sweater he used as a blanket and got out of bed.

His clothes were dry and wrinkled. He needed to get his suitcase from the car.

Remembering the woman he rescued in the pouring rain, Nicholas left the bedroom and followed the scent of baking. His stomach felt empty. The need to run into the kitchen and get a bite of whatever smelled that good was humbling.

He paused at the entrance to the kitchen when he saw the sight that greeted him. The chocolate cupcakes on the kitchen counter were the source of the delicious scent. They looked welcoming. Nicholas grinned and walked to the counter, reaching for a cupcake.

He stopped when the woman he saved last night straightened to her full height. She closed the electric oven, while holding a fresh batch of chocolate cupcakes.

She held back a gasp when she saw him, and he stared at her clean, freshly scrubbed face.

A slow smile curved her lips and she held out the cupcakes she held.

“Morning,” she said. “I’m Nalia. I hope you like chocolate.”

***

Nalia.

Nicholas bit into the fresh chocolate cupcake.

She was a temptress. How had she known he liked chocolate? The cupcakes tasted good, heavenly. She passed him a mug of coffee and he stared at the steaming liquid. She was a magician too.

He had not done grocery shopping yesterday.

“There’s a shop at the end of the road. I bought instant coffee there. I took money from your car.”

She grinned.

“I think it’s funny you have a jar of coins in your glove compartment.”

Nalia seemed to have gone exploring while he slept. Changed her clothes too…or her blouse. She wore a clean white t-shirt that read ‘wishing for the stars’, and the blue jeans she had on yesterday. They had watermarks. She had tried to clean out the mud. Her braids fell around her face, hiding the bruise that had turned darker than it was last night.

“I borrowed this too,” she said, tugging on the t-shirt. She sat on the chair across him and leaned her elbows on the table. “Found it in a closet on the second floor. Do you live here?”

Nicholas sipped the coffee, it wasn’t the best, but it was hot and sweet. Three healthy sips and the sleep cobwebs dissipated.

“No.” He looked around the kitchen. The previous owner had left a lot of things hanging around. “This is my first time here.”

Waa,” Nalia’s eyes went wide. “You’re one of those people, aren’t you?”

He didn’t like the tone she used, accusing…judging.

“What people?” he asked.

“You own a country house and an apartment, and a hut in the hills, and a bungalow by the beach.”

Nalia counted his imaginary houses using her left hand. She shook her head.

“No one lives in these houses but the rats and the stray cats. So, why own them?”

Nicholas chuckled.

“You have a wild imagination,” Nicholas said. “Do I look rich enough to throw money away that way?”

“So, are you a penny saver then?” she asked. “Ah…but the coins in a jar should answer that question. You know, I noticed you don’t have proper furniture around here. There’s only that one mug you’re using, and I had to use a rolling pin to mix the cupcakes. Do you know how hard that is?”

“No.” Nicholas sipped his coffee. “You talk a lot.”

“It’s not my fault.” Nalia sighed and sat back in her seat. “I hang out with kids all day. When I meet adults, I get excited and try to use all my words.”

Nicholas laughed then.

She smiled.

“Finally,” she said. “I was a bit worried you’re those people who frown all the time. I feel better now. I wanted to thank you when you’re smiling.”

“Thank me?” Nicholas asked, reaching for another cupcake.

“For being my life saver last night,” she said, her tone changing. “You took a risk taking in a strange woman in the night.”

“You jumped out of nowhere,” Nicholas accused. “You could have been killed. What were you thinking?”

“I don’t think I was.” Nalia rubbed her arms. “I wasn’t in the best of places last night. You must have been shocked.”

Nicholas studied her face. She had one of those slender faces. Clear dark brown eyes, and a ready smile. She was pretty, in a plain innocent way. The bruise on her left cheek and eye bothered him.

“Did you get that bruise running in the woods?”

She reached up and touched it, her fingers trembling as they touched the tender skin.

“I got it from a bad habit.” She got up, unwilling to talk more. “I’m sorry to have bothered you. I’ll leave now.”

“Wait,” Nicholas said, surprising himself.

She paused, giving him a frown.

“I made you coffee and chocolate cupcakes. I don’t have money to pay you—”

“That’s not why I’m asking you to wait.” Nicholas waved her worry away. “Please, sit down for a minute. If you stay a bit, I’ll drive you home.”

“No.” Nalia shook her head, the cheerful smile disappearing. “I—”

“Fine, I won’t drive you home,” he said, wanting that ready smile back. “I’ll take you to the bus stop.”

“I don’t have money.”

“I’ll lend you bus fare.”

“How will I pay it back?”

“You can pay me with Mpesa.”

“I’m—”

“Hey, it’s a Saturday.” Nicholas sat back in his seat and folded his arms against his chest. “Everyone takes a break on Saturday morning.”

“Yeah, not me,” Nalia clutched the back of her seat, looking out the window at the rising sun. “I need to get going. I did something last night.”

“Something bad?” he asked, curious as to what would make a woman go running in the woods so late.

“Something outside the box,” she said, her hands were shaking. She let go of the chair, and crossed her arms against her chest. “I know I look like I’m smiling right now, but…I’m a bit insane.”

“Should I be worried?” Nicholas asked.

Nalia stared at him and when he lifted a brow in question, she burst out laughing.

“You can’t possibly be afraid of me, can you?” she asked.

“You said you’re insane,” Nicholas countered.

Nalia studied him for a moment, and then nodded.

“Yes, you’re right. I’m insane. I’ve gone crazy. You are the first poor soul I ran into after my descent into this state, so you’ve taken a risk I tell you. Who knows what I’ll do next.”

“My friend is coming over,” Nicholas said then, reaching for another cupcake.

“What does that have to with this situation?”

Nicholas bit into the delicious chocolate cupcake.

“I’m just letting you know someone will worry about me if I go missing.”

Nalia laughed again, and she pulled out the chair she vacated and sat down.

“I thought you were leaving?”

Nalia reached for his mug of coffee and made a show of taking a sip. She took one of the cupcakes and made a show of eating it too.

He frowned.

“I’m eating too, in case you think I’ve poisoned them. This way, you’re sure your friend will find two bodies.” Nalia swallowed quickly, and sipped his coffee again. “Mmm…these are really good.”

Nicholas chuckled and wondered what fate had decided. It seemed his risk taking last night awarded him with a crazy woman, who loved chocolate cupcakes.

What was he going to do with her?

***

“You haven’t told me your name,” Nalia said.

She trailed behind Nicholas, watching him survey the house. She supposed he was assessing his purchase. She pulled on peeling paint from the wall in the corridor, and winced when white dust fell on the floor.

“Nicholas.” He flashed a grin at her. “Nicholas Muchemi.”

She nodded.

“Nice to meet you,” she said.

“So, Nalia,” Nicholas said, walking down to the next room on the second floor. “What were you running from last night?”

“Do you have to know?”

“You said I was your lifesaver. Of course, I have to know.”

Nicholas leaned on the doorjamb to what appeared to be a library. There were old books left on the shelf. Nalia entered the room, the books calling to her.

“Lifesaver or not, I don’t know you well enough to tell you,” Nalia said, stopping by the bookshelves.

She read the titles on the shelves with interest.

“Do you like books?” Nicholas asked.

“Some,” Nalia said, touching the old spines. “The owner of these ones didn’t take care of them. Are you going to sell them?”

“Maybe,” Nicholas said, coming to stand beside her. “I might have them restored and keep them as part of the house.”

“How often do you do this sort of thing?” she asked, pulling out a geography encyclopedia from the shelf.

“This is my third house.”

Pride colored Nicholas’s words. Of course, he would take pride in his achievement. She could not imagine how much money it took to restore a house like this. She would probably never see that kind of cash in her life. Returning the encyclopedia, she sighed and walked to the windows.

“It must be nice,” she said, staring out at the overgrown flower gardens behind the house.

“It’s a challenge. I like challenges,” Nicholas answered behind her. “You’re changing the subject, Nalia.”

“I don’t want to talk about last night. Why are you making me wait for your friend?”

“He’s a doctor.”

Nalia turned to look at Nicholas. He walked along the bookshelf, reading the book titles like a connoisseur. He was tall, taller than Malik. Nicholas was lean where Malik was bulky. Nicholas moved with grace, a warm refined air clung to him.

Nalia imagined it came from years of living in a world he had mastered.

She couldn’t imagine Malik browsing a bookshelf. Her husband preferred watching the news, and reading newspapers as though they held the secrets of the world. He thought novels were a waste of time, and he only wrote when he absolutely had to.

“Nalia,” Nicholas broke into her thoughts.

She blinked and stared at him.

“What are you thinking about? You looked so far away. My friend just text me, he’s two minutes away. We should head downstairs.”

Nalia frowned.

“You said he was a doctor?”

Nicholas chuckled.

“Don’t worry, Eli is a real doctor. I saw him graduate and get his certification.”

Nalia stared at him and then she laughed.

The saga of a quack doctor had taken over the local news. The quack pretended to be a doctor and used his position to abuse women instead. She imagined doctors were having a hard time lately, having to prove they were real doctors.

Nicholas had a sense of humor.

She liked that.

“I like your laugh,” Nicholas said, studying her.

His compliment shouldn’t have excited her, but it did. Warmth burst inside her, so vibrant, she forgot all the reasons why liking him was wrong. Heat suffused her cheeks and she dropped her gaze to the floor.

“We should go,” he said then.

She nodded and followed him out of the library.

Nalia imagined the folks living here before must have been grand to have a whole room designated as a library. All her books were stacked in a carton in her closet. She often had to fight with her clothes to get those books to sit well.

Downstairs, anxiety hit when she heard the sound of another car. She slowed down, while Nicholas seemed to increase his footsteps, hurrying to the front door. She watched him open the door with a flourish.

Nalia stopped in the middle of the living room.

Fear returned, and she realized how free she had felt before, when it had just been her and Nicholas. This house had somehow given her solace from her life in the last twelve hours. Sitting at the kitchen table with Nicholas, prowling the house with him, laughing…she couldn’t remember the last time she felt so carefree.

The sound of excited male voices outside reached her and she closed her eyes. She was scared again.

Nicholas returned followed by a short light-skinned man who carried a medical bag.

“Eli, this is Nalia,” Nicholas said, leaving the front door open. “Nalia, this is my best friend, Eli. He’s a private doctor.”

Nalia could only nod, her voice lost. She tried for a smile, but even that seemed stuck.

“Nalia,” Eli said with a warm smile. “I hope Nicholas has been good to you?”

She glanced at Nicholas and her traitorous heart skipped a beat. Guilt set in.

She was married. Yet here she was…tempted.

Alas, it was true. There is no one in the world that lived without sin, was she to count her sins in the last day, she was sure to burn.

Malik would be the one to burn her, she thought with a shiver.

“Shall we find a private room?” Eli broke into her thoughts. “I’ll take a look at that bruise on your cheek, put ointment on it.”

Nicholas pointed to a door to their right.

Nalia gave him a nervous smile and led the way to the door. It opened into a study. There was an old desk and a pair of chairs before it. She chose one and let out a shaky breath when Eli produced a stethoscope.

She closed her eyes when he leaned down to study the bruise on her face.

“Can I ask how you got this?” Eli asked.

Nalia had heard that question asked many times before. Concerned friends, her mother, her neighbors…she always lied. She told them stories of falling, bumping into doors, cupboards, absurd lies…never the truth.

Opening her eyes, she met a kind gaze, and suddenly she just couldn’t lie anymore. Tears filled her eyes and she found she couldn’t form the words, though she wanted to say them.

“Did someone hit you?” Eli asked then, taking a seat.

She nodded, making the tears slide down her cheeks.

“Was it your husband?” Eli asked, his gaze on her left hand where she still wore Malik’s ring.

Nalia fought back the shame that welled inside her and took in a deep breath.

“Yes,” she said, feeling as though she was jumping over the greatest hurdle of her life. “My husband hit me.”

****

Nicholas couldn’t help stealing glances at Nalia. He drove with care, keeping to the speed limit, not overtaking at will. A smile tagged at his lips.

Eli would be proud, he thought.

Nalia sat with her hands on her lap. Her fingers were in tight fists, her gaze fixed outside the window. She hadn’t spoken much after her consultation with Eli.

Eli resisted his efforts to discover what they discussed in privacy. Instead, Eli had given Nalia his card and made her promise to call him.

Nicholas stopped the car at the first bus stop he found on the main road. Parking on the curb, he turned to Nalia.

“Do you live close?” he asked.

She nodded, but didn’t say a word.

Reaching into his jacket, Nicholas got his wallet and found a five hundred shillings note.

“Will this be enough?” he asked, holding it out to her. “It should get you home—”

“That’s too much,” Nalia said. “Two hundred is fine.”

Nicholas sighed.

“I don’t have loose.”

She frowned at him.

He didn’t like those little frowns of hers. She probably thought him stuck-up or something worse for carrying large notes.

“Take the money, Nalia,” he urged.

She scoffed and took it with a short jerk.

“I’ll pay it back.”

“Are you always this stubborn?” Nicholas asked. “You don’t want help from anyone. Who lives like that?”

“Me,” she said and reached for the door handle.

The surge of panic that flooded him was new. Nicholas was sure he would never see her again, but…he wanted to see her again.

“Wait,” he said, when she opened the door.

“For what?” she asked, jumping out of the cab.

She held the passenger door open and met his gaze. When he didn’t say anything, she shrugged.

“Thank you,” she said. “You’ve been very kind to me.”

Nicholas nodded and watched as she closed the door and took two steps back.

She had his card, he thought.

She had insisted on it to be able to pay back the money she borrowed.

A matatu stopped in front of his car, and he watched Nalia hurry to board.

Nicholas smiled when she paused at the last minute to look back at his car. She gave him a short wave and he scoffed at the little flutter in his chest. The matatu took off as fast as it had shown up.

Nalia was intriguing.

She was a woman who took the time to bake to thank him for being kind. Her sense of humor made him laugh, not to mention she was beautiful in her own right. The bruise on her face brought a frown, and Nicholas wondered what it was Eli had learned about that bruise.

Domestic violence came to mind.

He wondered what kind of man dared to hit a woman like Nalia. Would that bastard do it again?

Nicholas frowned, staring after the retreating matatu.

Maybe he shouldn’t have let her go.

“Come to your senses, Nick,” he murmured and started his car. “She’s a stranger you met last night.”

Turning the car around, he drove back to the villa and his renovation plans.

****

Malik wasn’t home when Nalia entered their small rental house.

Nalia stood in their living room staring at the plates she dumped on the living room floor. She leaned down and righted one of the two dining room chairs they owned. She rubbed her arms looking around the little living room that could fit in the bathroom she had used to clean up hours before.

Her home was small, but she had once thought to be happy here. Now, this small space felt cold. Colder than the rain she ran through last night.

Ignoring the mess on the floor, Nalia went to the single bedroom she shared with Malik.

The bed was unused. Malik hadn’t slept here. She stepped over Malik’s soiled shirt on the floor and sat down on their bed. The room was messy: the clothes she fought to keep neat in their tiny closet were falling out.

Nalia shook her head.

She needed to figure out what she wanted.

****

“What kind of woman runs out in the rain?” Malik demanded, later that day when he got home. “You made a mess, and then left me to clean it up. What did you think was going to happen?”

Nalia sat at the small dining table peeling potatoes for dinner. She kept her gaze on the potato peels, refusing to look at Malik. Her husband was drunk. He had come home from one of his binges at the bar. Something was either right or terrible wrong. She didn’t dare ask. Her cheek was starting to heal. She didn’t need a fresh bruise.

“Are you just going to sit there?” Malik asked, standing over her. “All you do is cook, clean, and work. You have no time for me. Why did we get married again? You don’t even try to look pretty anymore.”

Nalia closed her eyes and forced her fingers not to stiffen on the knife she held.

“Go sleep,” she said. “You must be tired.”

“Sleep here?” Malik scoffed. “This shack we call home is not comfortable, Nalia. What do you want to do about that?”

Nalia’s eyes opened and she dropped the knife on top of the potato peels.’

“What do I want to do?” she asked, her tone sharper than she intended.

Damn it, Malik was a spoiled man. She could not stand it anymore.

Malik blinked staring at her.

“What am I to you?” she asked, pushing her chair back, Nalia got to her feet. “A punching bag? A private chef? Your cash cow?”

“Stop this foolishness,” Malik said with a wave of his hand. “You still haven’t told me where you went last night. No decent woman sleeps outside—”

“Whose fault is it I went running out in the first place?” Nalia demanded. “I’m tired of this, Malik.”

“Tired of what?” Malik asked, his gaze dropping to the peeled potatoes. “Cooking?”

“No, being your slave,” Nalia snapped. “I want a divorce.”

***



Part 3 – Meeting Again.

“Keep the library,” Nicholas said, surprising himself.

Renovations at the Villa were underway.

“Nick, you wanted to divide the library and turn it into two bedrooms,” the contractor in charge argued.

“I’ve changed my mind,” Nicholas said, sitting back in his office chair.

He couldn’t forget the sight of Nalia standing by the windows, sunlight dancing on her pretty face. She had looked like a goddess with a golden smile, designed to turn him into an idiot.

Why couldn’t he stop thinking about her?

“Nick?” his contractor prompted, cutting through his thoughts. “What about the books? They’re not exactly the best—”

“Box them,” Nicholas said. “I’ll pick them up this weekend.”

He knew a man who could restore those books.

“Whatever you want,” his disgruntled contractor said. “You’re the boss.”

Nicholas sighed.

“Keep to the schedule, Tony. We’re not working on this house for six months.”

“I promised one month, Nick,” Tony said.

“Make sure you keep the promise,” Nick urged, ending the call.

The trouble with renovation and construction, no matter how many deadlines the contractor had, they always went beyond those deadlines.

Nicholas stared at his phone, ignoring the pile of files on his desk. Legal papers to notarize, cases to work, requests from his bosses to fill, today he would be stuck in his office until midnight. His finger slid over his phone’s screen and he tapped on a two-month-old message from Nalia.

She had paid the five hundred shillings through Mpesa. Her accompanying message read, “Thank you, Lifesaver.”

Nicholas smiled. He should have cleared the message by now, instead…he stared at the little smiley face she included and wondered how she was doing.

Nicholas wanted to reply to the message, had even composed replies, close to a dozen, but he never sent any. Exiting his messages, he placed his cell phone on the desk and shook his head.

This was no time to daydream about a woman. Nicholas reached for the folder on top of his pile and got to work. He had no time, he decided, no time to worry about a woman he met in the dark.

****

Two days later, Nicholas stood in line at a bakery opposite City Hall buying chocolate cupcakes. The aroma was delicious, but not the same one he remembered. He dreamt about that sweet scent of chocolate cupcakes every night it seemed.

His phone buzzed and Nicholas smiled when he saw Eli’s face on the screen.

“Come to my office,” Eli said in greeting.

“That’s in Westlands, you mad man. Traffic is killing right now,” Nicholas protested.

“I have a present for you,” Eli said. “If you don’t want it, fine, I’ll just eat Nalia’s cupcakes alone.”

Nicholas gaped.

“What?”

“Cupcakes, chocolate,” Eli said with a laugh. “We have them at my office—”

“Whose cupcakes?” Nicholas asked.

“Oh,” Eli chuckled. “Nalia. Remember her? Two months ago—”

“I’m on the way.”

Nicholas dashed out of the bakery forgetting the order he made. The drive to Eli’s practice took one hour and that’s with reckless driving and angry horns from innocent drivers and pedestrians.

Traffic at two o’clock was no joke.

Nicholas drove into the Medical Plaza on Waiyaki way and parked at the front parking. He dumped his sunglasses on the dashboard, and got out of the car, his gaze roaming the three-story building that housed Eli’s medical practice.

Seemed as if business was good, what with the packed parking lot, Nicholas thought as he locked his car.

Nick went into the building and hurried through the lobby to catch the elevator as the doors closed.

“Hold,” he called out and cursed when the doors closed anyway.

He sighed and started to press the button to call another one. The doors opened and he stared at the woman carrying a cake box in the elevator.

“Nalia,” he whispered.

An older woman pushed her way past him into the open elevator, and Nalia gave him a frown.

“Are you coming?” she asked, her expression blank.

Nothing there to indicate she knew him, or that she had even been thinking about him. He scowled and entered the elevator, turning to punch the number to Eli’s office. The number three was lit, already pressed. His scowl deepened and he leaned on the wall, his gaze on Nalia.

The elevator stopped on the second floor, and the old woman exited. The doors closed and Nicholas crossed his arms against his chest.

“Hi Nalia,” he said. “Are you ill?”

She graced him with her smile.

“Hi, Nicholas,” she said. “Are you ill?”

“You can’t answer a question with a question.”

“Why not?” Nalia asked.

“Because it’s going round in circles,” Nicholas said.

“Do I look sick to you?” Nalia asked.

Nalia looked great. She wore a fitting silk green blouse, dark slacks that hugged her hips, her feet in green flats, no excess make-up, though her lips were a pretty red.  She was pretty.

“What?” she asked, when he made no comment.

Nicholas cleared his throat.

“You look well.”

The elevator doors opened.

Nalia led the way out.

Nicholas followed, amazed when she got a round of hellos from the nurses at the reception desk. She got a very warm welcome, which was surprising. He had never gotten that reaction from Eli’s nurses.

“How long have you been coming here?” Nicholas asked as they walked to Eli’s office.

“A while,” she said with a shrug.

He frowned.

“Are you really not sick?”

Why else would she visit Eli so much?

Nalia shrugged and opened the door to Eli’s office. Nicholas followed, his frown only deepening when he saw Eli grin from ear to ear at the sight of Nalia. They greeted each other like old friends. He was jealous.

“Nick,” Eli said, glancing at him. “Come on in and close the door.”

“What’s going on here?” Nicholas asked, afraid of the answer.

Eli was single after all.

Eli took out a chocolate cupcake from the white box Nalia had set on his desk. He smiled and held it up.

“I promised you cupcakes, didn’t I?”

Eli took a bite and groaned with pleasure.

“You’re magic, Nalia. These are delicious. Your customers must be going crazy.”

Nicholas stopped in the middle of the office, his gaze on Nalia who sat in an armchair, that maddening smile on her lovely face.

“You own a bakery?” Nicholas asked.

“I do now,” Nalia said. “I’m also a teacher.”

“Sit down, Nick,” Eli said, holding out a cupcake to him. “Nalia and I have a favor to ask you.”

Nicholas took the cupcake and sat next to Nalia. To think he’d been dreaming of these cupcakes for weeks. He smiled because in truth, he had wanted to see Nalia, wanted to know more about her.

“Nicholas, Nalia needs a lawyer,” Eli said, shocking him. “Can you help?”

Nicholas turned to look at Nalia.

“I’m divorcing my husband.”

****



Part 4 – Choices

Nalia clutched her handbag as she waited outside the Kilimani Courthouse. Her choices led her to this moment. Still divorce wasn’t an easy choice. She struggled with the decision. Her hand touched her jaw, and for the first time in years marveled at the lack of pain.

Men and women alike glanced her way, as they passed her. She was glad to find the overwhelming urge to keep her head down gone.

Before, with Malik, she had found it hard to look up, afraid people would guess how she got the bruises on her cheek. God, she hated that feeling. That helpless feeling that she couldn’t express without tears filling her eyes, and sliding down her cheeks.

Nalia let out a soft breath and glanced at the time on her phone.

Nicholas was late.

She frowned.

Nicholas.

He remained worlds away, even though they had spent almost every day together for the past two months. Nicholas had turned cold toward her after he found out she was married.

As if a switch turned off inside him, Nalia’s frown deepened.

Perhaps, he judged her choices harshly.

She couldn’t tell. Nicholas helped her without complaint. He wasn’t her lawyer. He refused that job outright. Instead, he got her a competent woman named Christine who worked in an independent office.

Christine was god sent. Christine took Nalia through the divorce process without asking for money first. When Malik showed up at the new one-room house Nalia was renting, Christine helped save her from a beating. Christine then used that incident to get the law on Nalia’s side.

There was nothing to fight for in court in terms of assets. Nalia didn’t want anything Malik owned, or his money. She was afraid his money would haunt her. She thanked God every day that they had no children. It made the divorce process easier.

Nalia sighed leaning on the wall.

“Are you happy?” Malik asked, interrupting her thoughts.

She looked up in surprise to find him standing a few feet away from her.

“I asked, are you happy Nalia?” Malik asked, when she didn’t answer him right away.

He looked tired, his suit hanging on his shoulders, his jaw unshaven. His eyes, however, still held the same anger toward her. He refused to forgive her for making the choice to leave their marriage.

“I’m happy,” she said now, her voice strong.

“You’ve made us into the talk of the town. Everyone knows we’re divorced. How are you going to keep working at the school? Surely parents will shun you for being a divorcee,” he sneered.

“If they don’t want me there, I can always get a transfer to another school,” Nalia said.

She had options.

Christine taught her that. Refusing to leave a bad marriage was not one of those options. Christine taught her that choosing to live a free and happy life was the most important decision to make.

“You have everything figured out,” Malik said.

Far from it, Nalia thought.

Holding Malik’s gaze, she straightened her shoulders.

“No, I don’t. All I know is that I don’t want you slapping me because you don’t get what you want.”

Malik scoffed and took a step closer.

Fear arced through her, irrational fear, because they were in public. There were people passing them and the sun was out. Malik wouldn’t dare hurt her here, but still the fear grew deep inside her and she had to clench her fists to keep from running.

“You’re weak,” Malik said in a hateful tone. “You’re no beauty, and you could never fit my standards. It’s good you’ve left. I’ll find a better wife now.”

Nalia bit her inner lip wishing she could ignore his words. She knew Malik wanted to hurt her, and she shouldn’t let his words matter, yet they did. They mattered because she had loved him. Loved him enough to marry him, and try to build a life with him.

Tears stung the back of her eyes and he smirked.

“I hope you’ll be happy,” she said in a tight voice.

She locked her knees as he stared at her for a moment, before he turned away and went into the courthouse. She fell back on the wall with a sigh once he disappeared, and took in a deep breath.

Warm hands clutched her shoulders and she looked up into Nicholas’s kind eyes.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

The tears she had held back fought their way out, her eyes filling. She blinked fast hoping to keep them at bay.

“You did well,” Nicholas said, squeezing her shoulders. “You did very well.”

She closed her eyes and the tears fell down her cheeks. Nicholas moved closer, handing her a handkerchief, he waited for her to wipe her eyes and compose herself.

“You’re late,” she said after a while, staring at his white handkerchief.

“I’m sorry.”

She met Nicholas’s gaze. She wasn’t sure what he was sorry about, being late, or being cold toward her.

“Well, you’re here now,” she said with a small shrug. “Christine is getting paperwork done. She wanted to talk to you.”

“I know,” Nicholas said, his gaze still holding hers. “I’m—”

She frowned when he broke off.

“What?” she asked.

“I thought distance was better,” Nicholas said abruptly. “I thought it would make this easier for you. Watching you stand up to him, I think I made a mistake. Nalia—”

She dropped her gaze to his shirt collar.

“I thought you didn’t want anything to do with me because of him and the divorce.”

“That’s not true,” Nicholas said, touching her right shoulder.

Nalia met his gaze, a soft gasp escaped at the longing in his eyes.

“It’s time,” Christine interrupted, coming up to them holding a pile of files. “We should go in.”

Nicholas nodded and squeezed Nalia’s right shoulder. Christine headed into the courthouse first, but Nicholas stopped Nalia.

“It’s almost over,” he said.

Nalia smiled.

“I feel like it is just beginning.”

Nicholas took her right hand and squeezed gently.

“I’m right here,” he said. “Right here with you.”

It was hard to ignore the wave of happiness that swept through her.

****



Part 5 – Sweet Endings

The thing with love, Nicholas thought, is that it didn’t come like in the movies.

There was no spark, no wave to wash over the heart like magic.

Love at first sight, he scoffed. Yeah right.

He had never subscribed to that piece of lunacy. All he knew was that love came when you least expected it. In the form of realization, and not struck down like an idiot holding a lightning rod.

He shook his head, his gaze on Nalia who had spent the past five minutes lighting a jiko. She was coughing now, the smoke rising from the charcoal all but choking her. She wiped a hand over her brow, and left a smudge of charcoal on her forehead. Her weave covered with an old scarf, and the green apron she wore had definitely seen better days.

Nalia scowled at the rising smoke and stepped back from the jiko. She entered her bakery, using the back door and returned with a plastic lid. Nicholas sat back in his seat, watching her fan the jiko like her life depended on it. She had a cake order due in the late afternoon.

Her charcoal oven was unlit, and it was almost ten o’clock. He had asked her countless times if he could buy an electric oven for her, but she refused. Preferring the charcoal oven to the whopping electric bill…the woman was strict when it came to expenses. Her bakery was doing well.

Nalia was the baking primary school teacher now, instead of the divorced primary school teacher.

She had worked a year to get rid of that title.

One whole year, he sighed.

One year of watching and waiting for the right moment. One year for the realization of love to come, take root and take over his life.

Nicholas visited Nalia when he could. He sat here in the small yard outside her bakery and rental house watching her work to build a new life out of the ashes Malik left her. She never complained, even when her orders overwhelmed her at times. Or, when she ordered sacks of flour and her supplier refused to bring it over, making her get them from the wholesale shop. Nicolas chastised her constantly when she chose not to call him for help and instead, struggled with public transport.

Stubborn woman…Miss Independent…he sighed.

Yet, her tenacity made her appealing. Hell, he had probably started falling for her when she jumped in front of his car that rainy night. Those days, he had not been ready to imagine he could allow a woman close to his heart.

A painful poke on his shoulder brought him back from his thoughts, and he blinked when he realized Nalia stood a few feet away.

“Your phone is driving me crazy,” she said. “Answer it.”

The ring tone penetrated his thoughts, and he grinned. Reaching for the gadget, he watched Nalia walk back to her jiko. Thankfully, there was progress and the charcoal was lit.

“Hello,” he answered his call.

“Did you find the courage yet?” Eli asked in greeting.

Nicholas sighed, staring at Nalia as she carried the jiko to her charcoal oven.

“I’m afraid to talk about that right now, she’s on a tight deadline…” he trailed off.

“Chicken,” Eli teased. “If you don’t tell her, I’ll call her and break the news to her.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” Nicholas said, afraid Eli might carry out his threat.

Eli and Nalia had formed a fast friendship.

Nicholas was jealous at first, but now he liked that Nalia had Eli to rely on too. After learning the truth about her harsh life with that Malik, he wanted her to have people to call on, people to trust.

“Your pitiful stalking is getting to a critical stage.” Eli sighed on the other end. “You’ve even kept the villa, Nick. Is it for her?”

“She liked that house,” Nicholas said. “And, the books in the library. Oh, stop rushing me. I’ll do this on my own time.”

Eli laughed.

“Fine, you coward, if she calls me at all, I’m going to drop a huge hint.”

Eli ended the call before he could protest, and Nicholas got to his feet.

“Do you have to leave?” Nalia asked, her hands at her hip as she turned to look at him.

“No,” he said.

“Oh good, make yourself useful.” Nalia frowned, her gaze taking him in. “You might want to roll up your sleeves. Don’t want to ruin your handsome shirt.”

Nicholas slid his cell phone into his pocket and did as asked. He neatly folded his shirtsleeves to his to his elbows. He glanced at Nalia, and almost balked when she pointed at a sack of charcoal leaning against the wall.

“Will you put that in for me?”

Nicholas shuddered, glancing at his pristine pale blue shirt. He had come straight from his office, hoping to catch Nalia and ask her out. Instead, here he was…

He gave an inward groan and bravely walked to the sack of charcoal. Thanking his gym time, he carried the bag into the bakery and placed it on the spot she designated. Dumping the bag on the stand, he stepped back quickly and caught a snicker from Nalia.

Turning to look at her, he frowned when she laughed.

“I didn’t think you’d do it,” she said in between chuckles. “Nick!”

“Woman,” he said, inspecting his shirt.

There was a smudge on his stomach, he wiped at it with his hands and frowned when he added to the stain.

“Stop,” she said, swiping his hands away. “You’ll only make it worse. Come on, wash your hands, and take the shirt off. I’ll clean that spot for you.”

“Why would you make me carry the charcoal then?” Nicholas asked, as she led him to the sink and handed him soap.

Nalia leaned on the counter with a smile.

Damn that smile, the golden smile he saw in his dreams.

Nicholas stopped washing his hands and turned to her.

“I came to ask you if you’d go see the villa with me.”

Nalia met his gaze, surprise clear in her eyes.

“Are you selling it?”

Nicholas winced.

“I was going to when we first met.”

“Oh,” Nalia said. “I guess the new owners will have asked you to gut it and—”

“I changed my mind,” he said then.

“About what?”

“Selling the villa,” he said, taking in a deep breath. “I kept the house.”

“Kept it?” Nalia stared at him. “As in you’re going to live there? Here I thought you were a simple man. What do you need all that space for?”

“I was going to ask you to move in with me.”

Nalia gaped, her eyes going wide.

“What?”

“I—”

Nicholas broke off and he reached out to wipe the smudge of charcoal on Nalia’s forehead.

“I love you.”

“Nicholas.”

“I have thought about this for months, and—”

“Months?” Nalia sighed. “When were you going to let me in on your thoughts?”

Nicholas shrugged.

“When I was sure?”

Nalia stared at him and for a moment he thought he’d misread her.

She grinned.

“I’ve known for a while, you know. No man will agree to carry charcoal when dressed like you are right now.”

“I should have known you knew,” he said then, staring at the smudge on her face.

“Why?”

“No woman will stay with charcoal smudges on her face in front of a man she likes, without assurance,” he said.

“Oh you,” she pushed at his chest and he caught her arms with a laugh, pulling her into a hug as he had wanted to for a year.

He kissed her then, and smiled when she wrapped her arms around him. It was like coming home.

“I promise to protect you,” Nicholas said, when they ended their kiss. Looking into her eyes, he made a vow. “I won’t break your trust, Nalia.”

Nalia held on to him tighter.

“You gave me strength when I didn’t have any. If I hadn’t met you, I would still be married to Malik. I would have gone back to him, thinking that I would keep surviving. But meeting you saved me from that.”

“Nalia.”

“I’m glad that you’ve waited this long for me,” Nalia leaned up to kiss his left jaw.

“So, what is your answer, girl with a golden smile?” Nicholas asked, needing a clear way forward.

Nalia kissed his right jaw, and said, “Yes.”

Nicholas let out a happy sigh and wrapped her in his arms, whirling about in the middle of her bakery.

“I have a cake to bake,” she said, when he didn’t let her go.

“You’re spoiling the moment,” Nicholas complained.

“I have a business to run,” Nalia said, extracting herself from his arms. “You’d better go inside and get that shirt off. I have a t-shirt you can borrow. When I’m done, you can take me to see our house.”

Nicholas smiled as she moved him aside to wash her hands.

His woman, he thought as she went to whip up a cake recipe…he couldn’t wait to see what the future held for them.

***

Fin

Thank you for reading!

###



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