Paul was staring at his phone with incredulity.
“No, you bloody sod! I just want to change our travel dates!” he was screaming. Sweat was beginning to bead on his forehead.
Lerato watched him pace the room like a caged hyena, panic rising in her chest with every breath she took. Could she just leave Ghana without seeing Khalid again? Without resolving things between them properly? She couldn’t. She would always live with that same sense of regret and hurt that had plagued her the first few years after they’d unofficially broken up if she did. She had to go to him.
Lerato reached out and touched Paul lightly on the arm. He whipped around and glared at her, raising his eyebrows in mock expectation.
“Baby, why don’t we deal with this tomorrow?” she whispered.
“You know how these people are. Sometimes they just need someone standing in front of them to get anything done. Why don’t you head down to the airline office tomorrow to change the tickets?”
Paul unceremoniously hung up on the agent without another word.
“You’re right,” he nodded. “When you’re in Africa, some things just need a ‘personal’ touch.”
Lerato gave him a watery smile. She hated to betray the dignity of her host nation and its citizenry, but she had a bigger issue to contend with: how she was going to see Khalid without raising Paul’s suspicions? She had to get away alone, and she to make him think this was HIS idea.
“What time do you think it would be best for you to go down there?” she asked, feigning submissiveness.
“I guess early in the morning… before that lot goes on their never ending lunch breaks,” Paul mused.
“That sounds like a good idea.” She perked up, as if having a sudden idea. “Do you think I should go back to the orphanage and get all the stuff I left there?”
Paul seemed taken aback.
“That’s a bit cruel, don’t you think?”
“Well, the equipment I – and you – donated cost quite a bit of money. I know how you feel about returns on investment. You didn’t seem very impressed with the way Felix Darko ran the place.”
Paul grunted at the mention of Felix’s name.
“Yeah. You’re right. We should get our stuff back.”
Paul paused and looked at Lerato solemnly. She held her breath and waited for him to speak.
“Do you think I should go with you?”
“Given the way you two parted, do you think it would be a pleasant encounter?”
Please say no, please say no…
“You’re right. It most likely wouldn’t be. I have to tell you, I can’t deal with anymore unpleasantness. It’ll be nice to get back to London – to civilization.”
He rubbed his temples, and seemed genuinely fatigued. Was this a dramatic display for solely her benefit? Surely her husband-to-be couldn’t be that pampered – such that he couldn’t handle a few heated words between himself and another man. But that wasn’t it at all, was it? It was Africa he hated. Africa herself was altogether hostile in Paul’s view. This vexed Lerato to no end. She was suddenly more determined to see Khalid than previously, no matter the cost.
“Let’s go down to the bar and have dinner,” she said sweetly. “Everything is going to be fine in the morning.”
What Paul didn’t know was that Lerato had never had a chance to give Felix the much needed donations. The medical kits, children’s clothing, toys and coloring books were locked safely in the hotel’s back office. Lucky thing too… It was the perfect alibi.
After Lerato kissed Paul goodbye and they got into their respective taxis, she frantically dialed Khalid’s number. He picked up on the second ring. He didn’t sound pleased to hear from her.
“Lera. How are you?”
She felt deflated. This frosty greeting was not the one she had hoped for.
“I.. I’m fine,” she stammered. “Kal, I know you must be angry.”
“No. I’m not,” he said flatly.
Lerato was alarmed. God. How could she have been so stupid? He didn’t care at all! Stupid, stupid, stupid…
“I’ve been worried sick,” he sighed. “You haven’t answered any of my calls, texts, what’sapps… nothing! I thought Paul had done something to hurt you.”
“Why would Paul hurt me?”
Khalid paused, as if he was confused.
“Didn’t you tell him about us?”
“I couldn’t, Khalid. It was so complicated that night -”
“No. It’s not complicated. I love you, and you love me, and we have a real chance to make this work.”
Lerato rubbed the back of her head and placed her forehead on her knees.
“Are you at work? I have to come see you.”
“Yes. I’m here, but…”
“No ‘buts’, Khalid. I’m giving the driver the phone. Give him directions. I’m on my way.”
The paper mill was just on the outskirts of Tesano. It was large, plain looking building with a tall concrete and metal gate surrounding it. It was a depressing façade, and not unlike a prison. How could Khalid stand to come here day in and down out?
Before she had a chance to mull over Khalid’s cheerless working conditions further, a security guard stepped in front of Lerato’s taxi and asked her to state her business.
“I’m here to see Mr. Haddad,” she replied.
“Is he expecting you?” the guard challenged.
Hawu! What kind of guardianship was this? Was Khalid the president and she didn’t know?”
“Yes, of course he is expecting me! Why do you think I would come to this sad looking place if he wasn’t?!”
The security guard grunted and told her to wait where she was. He disappeared into a small wooden kiosk and picked up a corded phone. Lerato could hear him talking to someone on the other end.
“Sah…yes, sah. They say you are expecting them sah. Oh…okay. Oh, sorry, sah!”
The lanky guard shuffled to her waiting taxi and jovially waved the car through.
“Mr. Khalid says you should go to his office, madam,” he said congenially. “It is just to the left. I hope you will tell him I was very helpful to you?”
Lerato looked at the security guard’s hopeful face and muttered her reply.
“Yeah. Sure. Thanks for your help.”
She got out of the car and paid the driver, who wasted no time in leaving. Lerato took a deep breath and pulled her bag close to her chest, realizing that she hadn’t even figured out what she was going to say to Khalid. What was less likely to annoy him? Jesus, this was a mess…
There was no more time to contemplate. Khalid was standing at the office door, waiting for her at the top of the stairs.
“Please come in,” he said quietly.
Lerato brushed by him, feeling warmth emit from his body as she did. Her skin was instantly lit aflame.
Lerato found the closest chair and sat, waiting for Khalid to address her. It would be easier if he broke the silence, but Khalid Haddad was in no mood to make things easier for her. After staring at each other in stony silence for an eternity, Lerato found something brilliant to say.
“Your office is very comfortable.”
“Did you come all this way to discuss my furnishings?”
She sighed and rubbed the back of her head.
“No,” she said quietly. “I came to tell you that I’m leaving.”
“Tomorrow. Paul is changing our flight right now.”
Khalid slumped over in his seat and carefully considered the brass and cork coaster sitting on his desk. Lerato stared at it too. The Manchester United trinket offered neither comfort nor guidance to either of them. When Kal finally spoke his face was red.
“So that’s it then, huh? You’re just going to do this to me again? Make me fall in love and then just run off?”
“Oh come on, Kal! That’s not how it happened before and you know it.”
“It’s the same thing, Lera. God, you’re something else, you know? Do you even have any consideration for the feelings of others?”
Khalid’s sanctimonious tone was grating on her nerves.
“You self-righteous bastard,” she spat. “I came here to tell you exactly what was going on. I don’t owe you anything, not even what my travelling plans are! The only reason I’m here is because I –“
She paused and gritted her teeth.
“You what, Lera? Because you love me?”
“I didn’t say that. I didn’t finish. You cut me off.”
“No. I didn’t. You stopped talking,” Khalid snickered. “So what’s the deal? You love me, and you love Paul? What are you going to do, Lera – because you’re going to have to make a choice. This is real life.”
Lerato felt her heart sink. Why was this so hard? Khalid was right. She was going to have to make a choice, even if it hurt like hell.
Fuck. Her nose was burning.
“You’re right, Khalid. I do have to choose,” she said through a tight throat. She had to get out of there. She didn’t want to burst into tears in Kal’s presence. “I have to go now. Goodbye.”
Khalid caught her arm as she turned to leave and pulled her close, rocking her as he spoke.
“Baby, I know this is hard for you,” he whispered. “It’s not that I’m not sympathetic. This has been hard for me too. You have a family, and I have to respect that. I just wish that the family you were coming home to was me…not Paul.”
Lerato buried her face into Khalid’s shirt and let the floodgates rush open. Snot, tears and saliva drenched Khalid’s plaid shirt. He tilted her face and kissed her tear stained cheeks. She offered him a weak smile and stopped her pathetic display.
“Your shirt is a mess,” she said apologetically.
“It’s a beautiful mess,” he smiled, unbuttoning his garment.
When he took it off, he wiped Lerato’s face clean with the bits that were still dry. They both laughed at the absurdity of the situation. Khalid turned serious first.
“You do make a decision, Lele, but not today. I will wait for you. I’m a patient man. But you have to promise that you will decide once and for all what’s to come. You have to take charge of your life.”
Lerato nodded in agreement.
“You’re right. I do need to grow a back bone.”
She walked towards the exit of Khalid’s office and turned to look at him solemnly, then locked the door with a loud click.
“Now shut up and fuck me.”
Khalid huffed and pulled Lerato to the middle of the office by the waistband of her skirt, kissing her hungrily with every step. Teeth and tongues colliding, they devoured each other until there was no other option for what was to come next. Khalid roughly tugged Lera’s panties, now heavy with wetness, and cast them onto this desk. She groaned and scratched at his already bare chest, his small brown nipples erect and taut, begging to be sucked. She leaned forward, running her tongue roughly over the expanse of his sandy brown chest. He pushed her back, stopping her advances.
“No,” he said, his voice strained. “I want you to ride my face. Get over here.”
Lerato grinned wickedly and pushed Khalid to the small sofa pushed against the wall of his office. When she had laid him flat on his back, she planted her slick pussy on his mouth, commanding him to search its rosy core with his tongue. Khalid lapped eagerly, teasing her clitoris until the peak was engorged and candy-hard. And then he began to suck.
Until Lerato let out a gasp-moan-cry that at once begged for mercy and for more. She could feel his lips curve into a smile between her thighs. A quick look over her shoulder informed her that he was ready to be ridden elsewhere as well.
Planting her palm into his chest, she made quick work of the snaps on his jeans and tugged them southward. His erection leapt out, bobbing and swaying beckoning her to place it in her innermost space. Before she had a chance to slide down his shaft, Khalid scrambled to his knees and placed Lera on the floor, entering her from the back. It was a slow, deliberate, contemplative penetration.
Khalid’s thrusts were slow at first, keeping pace with his shallow breathing and the whir of machines in the paper mill, and then faster, swifter, and harder until he arrived with such violence that it caused him to keen a long, low growl in angst.
The pair of them knelt there together, drenched in sweat and genitals glossy with cum and the liquid of their lovemaking. Khalid buried his face into her back, sighing blissfully, and in that moment, Lerato knew what she was going to do.
I can have them both. Men do it all the time. Why can’t I?
“I love you, Khalid Haddad.”
“I believe you, baby.”