MR. PERFECT SHOES
No one answered.
“Medium Caramel Latte for ‘Ah-donkey?’ ” the barista called out again.
This time, a tall, slim woman with golden brown skin who sat by the window raised her hand. Then, as if she remembered that this was not classroom attendance, she quickly put it down. A few quick, bold strides later, and she was at the counter, face-to-face with the sour-faced barista.
Adunni was used to people butchering her name, but this particular barista was the official pourer of sand in people’s garri at this café. No matter how many times Adunni enunciated her name, painstakingly drawing out each syllable to show just how easy it was to pronounce, she never got it right.
When she shortened her name to “Dunni,” the same barista called her “Doom Day.” So, Adunni decided to keep all three syllables intact.
She must think this is a game.
The other day, the barista had announced that the small flat white for “A Dummy” was ready. The week before, it had been “A Dolly.”
How? Why? Where did they jam each other?
That evening, Adunni decided it was time to return the favor.
If civility will not work, we will play this game together.
In her strongest Yoruba accent, she said:
“Oh thank you, Ashy.”
Ashy scowled and blinked twice. Then, she ran pale fingers through her blonde hair, as if the answers to life’s questions were buried in her scalp.
“It’s Ashley. Ash-lee,” said the barista.
“Oh right,” said Adunni. “Ban-shee.”
They may have stood there for another five minutes playing this game, if not for another customer behind Adunni, who complained that his dark roast tasted more like burnt toast.
“Ashy will fix it,” Adunni chuckled to herself and went back to her seat. No one would spoil her mood today. She gently lowered herself onto the hard wood chair she had been perched on for close to 15 minutes. That was 15 minutes fumbling with her laptop while she stole glances at the well-dressed guy across the room.
He seemed nervous and kept swiping on his phone. Anytime he did, Adunni asked herself what he was doing there. He just looked like he did not belong in this café. Well, not the Red Rooster Café, at least.
Most of the regulars took what Adunni termed “extra casual” too far. Some people actually came to hang out at the café, wearing pajamas. On a good day, maybe a tracksuit (the kind with white stripes on the sides), would make an appearance. And there were always people in jeans. Lots of jeans.
But this guy was different. He gave off this “not the café type” vibe, like he would have been more at home in a bar.
Adunni noted that the Red Rooster sounded more like the name of a bar than a mid-town café.
This guy had short brown hair that fell across his forehead in neat, careful layers, warm brown eyes, and a distinct sense of style. He wore a navy blue suit with a blue and pink polka dot tie and a matching pocket square. Adunni felt his pocket square alone was nicer than her own blouse. He looked to be in his late ‘20s.
But the absolute best part was his shoes.
He wore cognac Oxford dress shoes, which were so well-polished that in her friend Tade’s words, “they shone brighter than some people’s future.”
Adunni wanted to ask which tools or technique he used to get his shoes to shine like that. But, she didn’t. Instead, she marveled at the guy’s beard. It was short, neat and well-groomed. He didn’t have that homeless guy look, which seemed to plague many bearded men.
Adunni almost forgot that the paper she came to finish writing at the café was due in less than 24 hours.
“Don’t finish your paper, you hear?” Tade’s voice echoed in her head. “Continue watching man like TV. Shebi it’s man that will write your finals for you.”
Adunni chuckled. Tade’s voice always helped her re-focus, even if the said Tade was at that moment, visiting her older sister in New York.
While typing page 6 of 20, with multiple, wavy red lines scattered across, Adunni looked up from her laptop screen, and in that moment locked eyes with Mr. Perfect Shoes across the room.
She expected one of three things to happen.
One, he would tear his eyes away from her and resume staring at his phone screen. Yes, too many people were locked in an enduring romance with their phones.
Or two, he could tear his eyes away and focus on something else, like the coffee roaster behind her or the shelf of bagged coffee to her left.
Or three, he could keep looking, hold her gaze and smile, until either one of them looked away.
Mr. Perfect Shoes did none of those things.
Instead, without taking his eyes off her, he got up and strode, crossing the room in a few steps, until he was standing right in front of her.
Adunni was sure her mouth was hanging open, but she didn’t care.
Was he lost or about to borrow something?
“Hey! You’ve got the most beautiful smile. I just had to tell you,” he said breezily, as if it was completely normal to tell a complete stranger you liked her smile.
The wattage of Adunni’s smile went from double figures to triple figures. She couldn’t seem to stop herself.
“Chai, you don fall my hand. See as oyinbo boy turn you to mumu,” said Tade’s voice.
“Shut up, Tade!” Adunni blurted out.
“What was that?” Mr. Perfect Shoes asked in surprise.
“Oh nothing,” said Adunni quickly. “I mean … umm … thank you.”
“Yeah. No problem. My name’s Phillip, by the way.”
“Adunni. Ah-doo-nee,” she said, falling into the pattern she did when pronouncing her decidedly Nigerian name to an outsider.
“Oh, that’s different. Where are you from?” Phillip asked, sitting down at the only chair at the table.
Something is off …
Even as he sat down, Adunni couldn’t shake that feeling that something was not right. Phillip seemed like a nice guy, but …
“So, what brings you to the Red Rooster on a Thursday night?” she asked.
“A date. She stood me up though,” he added, sadly.
Adunni winced. “That sucks.”
“It does. Hey, I think she’s from Africa too. Her name’s Adwoa. She’s a nurse.”
“Really?” said Adunni. “What are the odds? Yes, Adwoa is a Ghanaian name. I’m a Nursing student too. Senior year.”
“You’re kidding!” said Phillip.
“Nope. I kid you not,” said Adunni.
And then, for some inexplicable reason, he smiled. It was that smile that creeped her out, gave her the heebie-jeebies.
“So, what do you do? Are you coming from work?” Adunni asked.
“Oh, you mean the suit,” he chuckled. “Well, I do a bit of this and that, you know, do what I gotta do to pay the bills and such …”
And for the next few minutes, no matter how hard she tried, Adunni could not get a straight answer from Phillip on what he did for a living.
Once again, she heard Tade’s voice in her ear:
“If a man cannot tell you in one sentence what he does for a living, be careful. So ra e.”
But Adunni didn’t need to take Voice of Tade’s advice. Phillip’s phone rang at that moment. He glanced at the phone and let it ring, while he silenced it.
“Can I get your number … or e-mail, or IG handle or Twitter handle … or something,” Phillip began.
“How about I just see you around,” said Adunni, rummaging through her brain for a follow-up excuse in case this one fell through. But there was no need.
Phillip’s phone rang a second time.
“I gotta take this. Excuse me,” he said before stepping outside.
He never came back inside.
When an hour later Adunni was leaving the café, she saw him chatting with Ashley. They each held burning cigarettes and he waved at Adunni as she walked to her car. That was the last time she saw Phillip.
As Adunni passed by, she took one last longing look at his perfect shoes.
“I’d still love to know how his shoes shine like so … Even if I own just two leather shoes,” she said to herself.
* * * * *
Two weeks later, while real life Tade was watching an episode of “The Bachelor,” Adunni was scrolling through her Facebook timeline.
“How can people expect a person to find love on a TV show?” Tade grumbled.
“And yet you own all seasons of the Bachelor. See your life!” said Adunni.
“I love all the drama jare. It’s delicious,” said Tade.
And then, Adunni screamed.
“What? So she didn’t get a rose? That’s kind of the point of–” Tade began.
“No!” Adunni shouted. “Come and see.”
Tade ran to her side. Adunni pointed to a news clip of a man arrested for strangling his girlfriend. She was a Nursing student.
“It’s Mr. Perfect Shoes!” said Adunni.
“Na God save you,” said Real Life Tade.
And for once Adunni did not try to shut her up because she was right.