Koya’s Choice – 14

14 – Blinder than a Bat…Didn’t see it coming ’till he grabbed her arm

Art and glass, Koya thought with a smile, trailing her finger over a delicate blue glass jar.  Sculptures, mosaics…it was endless.  She loved it all.  Wished she could take each beautiful piece to her home in Ndwaru Road, but that was a crazy thought.  She touched a glass wind chime and smiled at the resulting jingle of notes.  Well, she could take the wind chime.  Visiting Kitengela Glass remained as charming as ever.

She glanced at Kim.  He was busy talking to one of the Artisans about a mosaic for his client’s house.  She took the wind chime to the assortment of glass products they had chosen for Kim’s client.  Kim joined her a second later.

“Will you buy this for your wife?” the lady attending them said with a smile.  She held out a glass jewelry box.  It was gorgeous.

Her comment, though, freaked Koya out.  Koya lifted her hand, already shaking her head. 

“Oh no, he’s not—

“Yes,” Kim said with a wide pleased smile.

He made the payment fast, grinning from ear to ear.  Koya frowned and left the gallery first.

She’d hoped to walk around the property more, but—she headed straight to Kim’s pickup.

Kim grabbed her left arm, stopping her a few feet from his car.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Koya snapped.  “Let’s just go.”

“You’re mad.”

“I’m not.”

“Don’t do that,” Kim matched her tone.  “You’re annoyed she mistook us for a couple and I went along with it.  Don’t brush it off.”

Koya stared at him, then jerked her arm out of his hold.

“Yes, I’m annoyed.  You didn’t have to play along.  We’re not—

“What if I want us to be?” Kim asked, cutting her off.

She blinked.

Kim scoffed.

“Gosh, I don’t know whether to be insulted or amused.  Koya, surely, you’ve noticed.  I care about you.”

“As a friend,” Koya said, shocked to the core when she read different in his eyes.

His gaze was softer somehow.  Had he always seemed so…She stared at Kim not sure why she hadn’t seen it before.  She let out a soft breath, panic rising.

“Kim—

“Don’t,” Kim said, this time, he lifted his hand to stop her.  “Get in the car.  I don’t want to hear another rejection.”

She closed her eyes and turned away because she was afraid.  What the hell was she supposed to do now?  The ride back to the city was uncomfortable.  The radio was on, saving them from silence, but Koya could barely look at Kim.

By the time Kim pulled into her property on Ndwaru Road, she was ready to jump out of the cab and hide in the house for a month.  Kim circumvented her plan, locking her door when she would have opened it and escaped.

“Koya.”

“We don’t have to do this,” Koya said quickly.  “You’re my friend, Kim.  One of my oldest friends.  I don’t want to lose that.”

“You won’t.” Kim took her right hand in his.  “Listen to me.  Now that Charlie’s back—

“What does he have to do with anything?”

“Everything,” Kim said.  “Charlie is always the key to everything in your life. You haven’t dared look at anyone since he left.  Tell me am wrong.”

Koya met his dark gaze then.  His knowing gaze made her feel naked.  She read love in his eyes, perhaps some pity, though that was fleeting.  Kim knew her too well.

“You’re not wrong.  He hurt me, Kim,” she admitted.  “I’m over it.”

Kim gave her a small smile.  “I’ve waited, given you the chance to recover and heal.  Don’t you think it’s time to discover if you can love again?”

Koya dropped her gaze to their intertwined fingers, her heart beating too fast.

“In case I’m not being clear, Koya, I’m asking you to give me a chance.”

Koya let out a soft sigh.

“But I like us, now.  What if we ruin us?”

“We won’t,” Kim said.  “I won’t let it happen.”

Koya closed her eyes and wondered if she wasn’t being too cautious.  Kim was good to her, had always been.  He was a good friend, maybe if she gave him a chance as he was asking…Charlie’s image flitted into her thoughts.  His declaration that Saturday about wanting her back…as though she’d been sitting around waiting for him to come for her.

Giving Kim’s fingers a squeeze, she opened her eyes and gave him a small nod.

His answering smile was blinding.  She couldn’t help laughing because he looked like a kid getting his first soccer ball.

God, what was she thinking.  This could go so wrong.

“Okay,” Kim said, with a satisfied nod.

“Now what?” she asked, staring at their clasped hands.

“Now we go on a date, Koya Kalahari.  Our first,” Kim said with a grin.  “I owe you meat.”

“Jeez, you are really hitting on my weaknesses.  I do love meat.”

“Go in,” Kim said, nodding to her house.  “Get dressed, all nice and fancy.  I’ll pick you up at seven o’clock.  I’m taking you out tonight.”

“No one goes on dates on Monday,” Koya said, not that she had been on any date for a while.

“We do,” Kim said, leaning over to press a soft kiss on her cheek.  “Thank you for making my day.”

****

Koya dug her fingers through her braids, wondering if she needed to change her hairstyle.  The braids suited her, she liked them long.  They were functional, and she could wash them at will.  Plus her hair stylist got them looking so thin and pretty…they fell around her in a neat fall.  She shrugged.  The braids would stay.

She smoothed her hand over the amber kanga dress she wore.  The skirt of her dress stopped an inch above her knee.  She looked colorful and fancy, thanks to her genius tailor.  She’d gone through five horrendous try-and-errors to meet the tailor who had finally mastered her figure.  Style in this city was meeting your soul mate in the form of a godsend tailor.

Koya smiled at the figure she cut in the mirror and decided she would do.

Taking a matching clutch bag from her bed, she left her bedroom and went downstairs.  She entered the kitchen just as Hana came in carrying bags from the supermarket.

“Wow, where are you going?” Hana asked, her eyes wide with drama as she dumped her loot on the kitchen table.  “Who is the hot date?”

Koya opened the fridge and got a bottle of water.  Cracking it open, she took a healthy sip then answered Hannah.

“I’m going to dinner with Kim.”

Hana gaped.

Koya finished her water, and dumped the bottle into the trashcan.

“Close your mouth, honey, flies will get in.”

“Like a date?” Hana asked.  “As in, you and Kim?”

Koya shrugged.

“Uh…I think I should be recording this,” Hana said, getting her phone from her pocket.  “Ashi won’t believe me, so we need to get this nicely documented.”

“Jeez, you’re making me sound like a shut in.  I do go out….sometimes” Koya said, checking Hana’s shopping bags.  Finding white corn and beans, she frowned.  “Hey, remember to remind Auntie Shiro to make githeri on the jiko.  I don’t want her bending over firewood back there.”

“You’re the only woman on earth who would talk about githeri at a time like this,” Hannah said, already dialing Ashi.  “Ashi, you won’t believe this—

Kim chose that moment to stroll into her kitchen.  Hana gave an appropriate gasp when she saw him.  He was not in his usual casual clothing.  Tonight, he’d chosen a dark blazer, pressed blue shirt and dark slacks.  He’d exchanged his work boots for shining loafers.  Dashing and handsome were words too simple.

“Ready?” Kim asked.

Koya picked up her clutch from the table.

“Yes.”

“You look beautiful,” Kim said, giving her a red rose.

Hana giggled behind her.

Koya took the rose and brought it to her nose.  She couldn’t remember the last time she’d received a flower.  Kim took her left hand and tucked it into the crook of his elbow.  Koya wondered why she’d never thought Kim a romantic as he led her out of her kitchen.

***

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Koya’s Choice – 13

13 – Hidden Secrets & Changing Relationships

Ashley Dhali swept her finger over the photos on her pad with reserved judgment.  She was in her office at the Dhali estate.  Her assistant stood a few feet away from her desk clearly worried about her reaction.  

She frowned and shook her head.  

She wasn’t angry.  She settled back in the comfortable leather office chair, surprised.  She really wasn’t angry. In fact, she hadn’t thought about Koya Kalahari in years.

Ashley glanced at the pictures on the screen again.

Charlie stood too close to a beautiful woman in a long green dress.  Koya had matured into an elegant creature.  What worried Ashley was the expression on Charlie’s face.

She placed her pad on the desk and met her assistant’s gaze.

“Where was this?”

“The Power to Women gala held at Riruta church on Saturday.”

So that’s where Charlie had gone.

He’d gone to check on his old flame.

Hunting, she scoffed.  “That punk.”

“Miss Kalahari is the foundation’s Chairlady.  Dhal Corporation has donated one million shillings to their community center project.  They foundation is building the center on a plot close to Miss Kalahari’s home.”

Koya seemed to have found a foothold in the power jungle.

Ashley stared at her pad for a full minute then made a snap decision.

“Call Adele Kouga,” Ashley said, remembering the M.P.’s wife was the Vice- Chairlady. “Make an appointment with her for tomorrow morning.  Tell Nora to start preparations for a dinner party on Friday night.  The guest list is as usual.  Make sure you add Koya Kalahari to the list.  Let’s see if she can swim with the sharks.”

“Yes, Madam,” her assistant left her office fast, shutting the door.

Alone, Ashley stood and walked to a chest of drawers against the wall to her left.  The top drawer was secured with a small keypad.  She punched in the password and the lock system disengaged.  Pulling open the top drawer, she removed a sizable lacquered box, placing it on top of the chest.

Ashley removed a bunch of letters she’d kept hidden for eight years.  Taking the oldest one, she stretched it open and stared at her son’s familiar writing.  Her gaze on the heartfelt words written…

She wasn’t sorry for the decision she’d made eight years ago.  She really couldn’t be sorry, because it would mean undoing so much.  Dhal Corp wouldn’t exist, Charlie wouldn’t have turned out the way he had.  Folding the old letter, she stuck it with the rest and returned them into the box.  She locked the box away in the drawer and strode out of her office.

Regrets were for weak minds.

The best she could do now was get to know Koya Kalahari.

***

“Mahali travel would like us to create a campaign promoting their Diani, Malindi and Nyali packages,” Koya said, reading through the requirements Mahali emailed her.  “We need site visits, Hannah.  I’m leaving that to you.”

“I’m in for a trip to Diani.”  Hannah grinned as she took the pictures of the beach cottages Mahali Travel used to host their clients.  “I see myself here for a month.”

“Haha, there is a two-week limit on the project, cousin,” Koya said as she sat back in her seat.  She swiveled it from side to side, twirling her pen.  “Don’t get lost down there.”

“Hmm,” Hannah met her gaze.  “This will be a fun campaign to create.  I have a billion ideas already forming.”

“I’m sure,” Koya said with a small smile.

She stopped swiveling her chair, and leaned her elbows on her desk.  She signed off on the budget the accountant had laid out and passed the file to Hannah.

Hannah stood to leave, and then paused, studying Koya.

Koya raised her eyebrow.

“What?”

“Are you alright?” Hannah asked.  “You’ve been like a zombie since the gala on Saturday.  You drank yourself to sleep that night. Yesterday, you agreed to wearing lime green at Ashi’s wedding without flinching.  I’m worried.”

“She seemed so set on the lime green for the bridesmaids,” Koya said.  “I didn’t want to argue with her.”

“I’m counting on you to change her mind.  I refuse to look like a bright fruit in the name of a wedding.”

Koya laughed.

“Fine, I’ll take her out to lunch,” Koya said.  “I’m fine, Hannah, there’s nothing to worry about.”

Hannah frowned and took her seat again. 

“Koya, we all understand that things are a bit tough for you—.”

“Hey,” Koya protested.  “This is exactly what I want to avoid.  Nothing is hard, Hannah.  Charlie can’t dictate how happy or sad I am.  Life goes on.”

“Sounds to me like you are trying to convince yourself you’re fine.”  Hannah stood and waved the file she held.  “Thanks for this.  I’m off to Diani for some work and play.  Meanwhile, please think try to live a little, cousin.  Life is not all about work, you know.”

Alone in her office, Koya swung her chair around to stare out her office windows.  She tried to get a hold of the anger rising up at odd times of the day: an old anger she’d never managed to destroy.  She kept busy to ignore it, but it was constant and ready to burst out these days.  Charlie had looked well, too well.  His intention to get back with her after the horrendous letter he’d written was insane.  Who did he think he was? 

She’d come in to the office this Monday morning ready to bury her head in work and forget him, but apparently work wasn’t helping.  Her cell phone buzzed on her desk and she reached for it.

“Kalahari,” she answered.

“Come out and play,” Kim said into her ear.

“I’m busy.”

“You’re staring out the windows brooding, come on, don’t be a bore.  It’s Monday.”

“Most people would think you’re the crazy one.  Mondays are serious business days.”

“Not for me,” Kim chuckled.  “Change into jeans and a t-shirt.  Let’s go glass shopping.  I have a client who wants fancy art on glass.  You’re good with that kind of thing…how about it?”

“Will you pay me commission?” Koya asked, although her blood was already singing at the thought of a road trip out of the city.

“A steak dinner,” Kim offered.

“Meat?” Koya laughed.  “I guess I’m that kind of girl.  Fine, let me change.  Where do you want to pick me up?”

“I’m downstairs, hurry down,” Kim replied.

Koya got up from her seat and looked down at the parking lot below.  She grinned when she saw Kim’s familiar black four-wheel drive pickup.

“Five minutes,” she promised, rushing into the bathroom attached to her office.

She kept a mini wardrobe on a shelf in the bathroom.  She changed out of her white and red skirt suit into blue skinny jeans and blue t-shirt.  Pulling on matching rubber shoes, she held her braids up in a ponytail and hurried out of the bathroom.

She made it downstairs in six minutes, but who was counting.  Kim grinned at her as she got into the passenger side.  He gave her a once over and pointed at her neck.

She touched the gold necklace she’d been wearing to match her elegant skirt and blouse.

“Oops,” she smiled and unsnapped it.  She slipped it into her handbag and wore her seat belt.

Kim gave her an approving wink and started the truck.  He tuned the radio to a rock station, turning up the volume.  Koya loved the drive out of the city, a sense of freedom always settled over her.  Glancing at Kim, she smiled because he always knew how to lift her spirits.

***

To be continued…>>

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Koya’s Choice – 11

11 – I Miss You, I Hate You, I Love You

Koya glanced up to see Adele and a man dressed in a white t-shirt and jeans walking toward them.

“Oh no, here comes Addie,” she said with a groan.

Kim chuckled and bumped her arm with his shoulder.

“She’s harmless,” he teased.

Koya shook her head and would have responded but Kim held on to her hand and pushed off the table.

“Koya,” he said his tone too quiet.

Frowning at his serious voice, she looked at him and found his gaze focused on the man with Adele.  Returning her attention to the two approaching, she studied the man walking beside Adele.

He moved with assured confidence.  He laughed and she gripped Kim’s arm in recognition.

It couldn’t be.

Her heart filled with apprehension, it felt as though her heart was going to burst out of her chest.  A sudden urge to run in the opposite direction had her shaking.

“Koya,” Adele greeted with excitement.  Her eyes were shining in triumph.  She’d finally found a weakness.  Koya would have happily strangled her right then.

“Guess who has come to our little gala.  Mr. Charles Dhali came in person.  Can you imagine?  I was just thanking him for his generous contribution today.  I insisted that you would want to thank him too.”

Koya was sure Adele was put in this world to torture her.

In which planet would she want to thank Charlie for anything?  Charlie, the bastard who chewed on her heart and spat it out like garbage.  This Charlie with a smug smile on his ridiculously handsome face….

What would he do if she shoved the bunch of flowers on the stand beside him into his mouth?

“Hello, Koya Kalahari.  How have you been?” Charlie greeted in a voice that seemed to travel through her.

“Oh, you know each other,” Adele said, still smiling.  “Good, Mr. Dhali, I will leave you in Koya’s capable hands.  We shall talk later.”

Adele patted Charlie’s arm and walked away with quick strides.  Koya could barely breathe.  She doubted she could keep standing if it weren’t for the tight grip she had on Kim’s arm.  How was it possible that Charlie still had such power over her?

“Don’t I even get a hello?”

“What are you doing here?” Koya heard herself ask.  Her anger was so strong; she feared she would break in half at the force of it.

“It’s a gala,” Charlie replied with that stupid smile that showed off perfect teeth.  It seemed his love for sweet things hadn’t destroyed them yet.

Koya turned away from Charlie then.  She needed to get a hold of the bubbling emotions inside her.

“At least call before you show,” Kim said, his arm going around Koya’s waist.  She was glad for his strength.

“Best friend, you won’t give me a hug either?” Charlie asked his tone full of sarcasm.

“It’s difficult.  We haven’t been best friends for so long,” Kim said, his tone tinged with mild amusement.

Charlie’s gaze narrowed.

“Well, sorry to surprise you with my presence.  But—, I really wanted to see you guys.”

“You chose the wrong time,” Kim said.

“It’s never the wrong time with friends,” Charlie countered. 

“Strange, how long has it been, Charlie, since you left—

“Leave, Charlie,” Koya interrupted Kim.

She couldn’t take the sight of him.  She just couldn’t listen to him, with that voice—so many memories returning.

“Go back to where you came from,” she said.

“Come on, Koya,” Charlie said with a smile.  “I’m starting to have fun.”

“Please,” Koya heard herself beg.

Nausea rose and she took in air to control it.  She’d be darned if she lost control in front of Charlie.

“You don’t have to contribute here.  Your money is not needed, so leave.”

“Ask me anything else,” Charlie said.

“I don’t want anything else,” Koya said.

Koya was sure if she could physically carry Charlie out of this field, she would.  But then there was the intense need to run into his arms and hug him, how she’d missed him, missed seeing him…she shook her head.  The best thing was for him to leave.

***

Did she need to keep holding on to Kim?

Charlie scowled.

It was taking all he had not to walk up to her and grab her hand away from Kim’s bulging bicep.  They made such a pretty picture, it annoyed him.  The tall muscular man, supporting the graceful damsel in distress.  Charlie’s gaze met Koya’s angry eyes and he adjusted his thoughts.  Damsel wasn’t right; she looked more like a furious valkyrie with fire burning deep inside.  God she was beautiful.  Her skin brown and warm in the sun, her braids falling down her back, the wind teased them gently.  Her tantalizing figure wrapped in green fabric, made him think of mermaids in the deep sea, seducing men to their deaths.

The woman was driving him crazy.

What did she mean by leave?  He wasn’t going anywhere when another man was staking a claim on his territory.  Thinking of her in Kim’s arms was going to drive him to murder.

Were they together, he wondered.

She looked comfortable by Kim’s side.  And the way Kim’s arm wrapped around her waist, there was no awkwardness.  Rage blew through him like a storm.

He looked around the busy field and gave Koya a small smile.

“I’m not making this easy for you two.  I’m staying all day, my love.  You’d better practice your smile, you’re going to have to flash it when I’m handing you a check for your precious foundation.”

Turning away before he punched Kim for his betrayal, Charlie headed for the drinks tent hoping they were selling something stronger than juice and punch.

***

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Koya’s Choice – 6

6 – Living, living…really, I’m living

Koya reached for her cell phone. She glanced at the caller ID and sat up in her seat.

“Musa,” she answered. Our client is not happy. He wants to promote vacations; you’re making that difficult, why?”

“I’m not, Miss Koya,” Musa said. “We’re reworking the pictures as we speak. I did everything as you asked, and then your client changed everything last minute. We’re doing the best we can.”

“Excuses kill business, Musa,” Koya said. “I need those prints. I’ll pick them up myself.”

“They’ll be ready,” Musa said.

Koya ended the call after more assurances from Musa. She groaned when she saw the time on her phone. It was time for lunch. She needed to set out a bit earlier today. Jam on Nairobi streets could lead to insanity, especially during lunch hour. She was driving to the Chinese place on Valley Road. Kim had a construction project close by, so she was compromising today.

Oh well, she’d go see Musa after lunch.

Thirty minutes later, Koya sat at a table across Bernard ‘Kim’ Kimani at the China Plate, messing with her chicken fried rice. The restaurant was busy, though the atmosphere made it almost seem like she and Kim were alone. Taking her glass of water, she took a sip and her gaze collided with Kim’s dark one.

Kim had grown up. He was fit enough to play in the national rugby team. His eyes were a man’s eyes now: so keen, he seemed to see straight into her inner thoughts. Kim ran his father’s construction company now; he’d grown into a man to contend with in business. She was proud of his accomplishments. All their school friends had opted to go for mainstream jobs, but Ashi, Kim and herself, they’d chosen to start businesses. Ashi owned two bookstores. Kim ran his father’s construction company, while she’d started the advertising agency.

Starting was hard, it always was, but she was glad she’d gotten off the ground.

“What’s on your mind?” Kim asked.

“Work,” Koya said, sitting back. “It’s been a busy morning.”

“Are you giving Musa a hard time again?”

“You bet,” she said, flashing a smile. “Why? Do I have wrinkles? Musa is driving me crazy.”

Kim laughed. “No wrinkles, you look lovely as always. Good enough to eat.”

“You flatter me.” His words made her happy. She took a bite of her food. “What’s so urgent we had to meet today? Is Ashi driving you crazy with wedding plans?”

Kim seemed to sober up as he picked up the napkin on his lap and wiped his mouth.

“Is everything an appointment with you?”

“I’m a business woman. I don’t have time to waste,” Koya said, reaching for the bottle of soy sauce. She poured a healthy helping over her rice, turning it dark. Kim frowned when she took a blissful bite. “Talk fast. I need to go hassle Musa after this.”

“You can take a break, Koya,” Kim suggested. “You’re always working.”

“We won’t have much to talk about if you bring up my life.”

“Fine, be that way,” Kim said. “I guess I shouldn’t ask if you’re happy.”

“Let’s change the subject.”

“Jeez, Koya. I want the day to come when I can ask these things and not have you flinch and scowl.”

“Happiness is measured by an individual,” Koya said. “You refuse to listen when I tell you I’m happy. I’m happy. I’m so happy, I don’t know how else to explain it.”

“Denial is not a state of happiness. When was the last time you went out on a date? Are you still holding on to the past?”

“I’m going to get up and leave you to lunch alone, Kim.” Koya placed her fork on the table and stared at Kim. “Why are you doing this?”

Kim studied her for a moment, then lifted his hands in surrender.

“Okay, I’ll stop. Eat Koya,” he said.

She picked up her fork and took another bite, as she chewed, Kim smiled.

“I have to tell you something?” Kim said, placing his napkin on the table. “This isn’t easy. Someone has to tell you before you meet.”

Koya stopped eating and met Kim’s gaze.

“You’re driving me crazy. What do you have to say?”

“Charlie is back in town.”

Koya stared at Kim. Suddenly the restaurant sounded so loud, her ears wouldn’t stop ringing. She shook her head, her gaze on the busy waiters tending to customers who ate without pause; couldn’t they hear the deafening explosion?

“Koya,” Kim said in a gentle tone.

His voice drew her back from the edge. She grabbed her napkin and dumped it on top of her rice. Taking her handbag and cell phone, Koya pushed her chair back and got up.

“Come on, Koya,” Kim said.

She didn’t stop to see if he followed. Once outside, Koya headed to her car, holding on to control as it slid away fast. She tripped on a stone, her heels still too new and almost fell, managing to catch herself on her car’s bonnet. She gave in then, kicking the curb with the tip of her new grey heels. Damn it, she still needed to finish the payment on them, but…damn it, she kicked the curb again. A soft cough caught her attention and she looked up to find Kim standing a few feet away.

Koya pointed a finger at him. “Jokes are the last thing I need today, and you’re playing one that is too cruel.”

Kim crossed his arms against his chest.

“I’m not joking. Charlie is in town. Will you stop taking it out on the curb and listen to me.”

“Move closer, so I can take it out on you,” she said, shaking a fist at him. “I need to calm down. I can’t drive like this. I’m so pissed, I might kill someone.”

“I’m sorry. This was a bad idea. I should have told you this evening.”

“You shouldn’t have told me at all, Kim. I don’t—I don’t care about him anymore. You telling me means you think I care and I don’t.”

Abandoning the curb, Koya turned to her car and unlocked it with a flourish. She threw her handbag and cell phone to the passenger side.

“Then why are you so pissed off?” Kim asked when she entered the driver’s side and opened the window.

Giving him a mean look, she started the car and put it into gear. She drove out of the restaurant parking lot at high speed. What did Kim mean, why was she pissed off? Koya scoffed. Who told him she needed to know about Charlie coming back to Nairobi? She was angry with Kim for thinking it mattered. Charles Dhali was old news. She’d let him go.

She drove back to Westlands in a daze. When she got to her office, she found Linda eating a sandwich at her desk.

“Hold my calls,” Koya said, when Linda started to stand up.

“Yes, Miss Koya.”

Koya slammed the door to her office closed. She dropped her handbag on the coffee table and went to her desk. Anger boiled inside her, like lava, pushing to erupt at the slightest pressure. She sank into her chair and stared out the windows. Letting out a breath, she turned around to face her desk and opened the bottom drawer on her right.
Koya reached under a stack of new envelopes and pulled out a picture frame. Placing it on her desk, she stared at the picture of a smiling man, his brown eyes shining with amusement.

“You don’t matter anymore,” Koya said in a whisper. “Stay away from me.”

***

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Koya’s Choice – 5

Koya’s Choice – 4

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Koya’s Choice – 5

5 – Moving Forward, A Tree Arrives

Eight years later
Avenue Advertising was celebrating five years of business with style. The company now boasted spacious offices in Westlands, with a workforce of over fifty employees. A young woman, in her early twenties walked with purpose along the main corridor. She carried a fresh mug of coffee in one hand, with the other a black folder, her high heels silent on the blue-carpeted floor. She reached the end of the corridor, and pushed the glass doors open. She let the pressure doors close and headed past the secretary’s desk to a solid wooden door.

She knocked once, and walked into the neat office with a nervous smile. She loved this office, wanted one of her own in the future. She loved every thing in it, from the neat navy blue carpet on the floor, to the large glass desk set by the tall windows. A computer screen was set off to the right side, the keyboard hidden in a clever shelf under the table. Comfortable armchairs and a two-sitter couch made up a cozy visiting area, with a glass coffee table between them. She’d placed a blue vase filled with colorful daisies this morning on the coffee table. She paused to arrange the Avenue Advertising brochures beside the vase of flowers, then took a sisal coaster from under the coffee table.
Her gaze shifted to the swiveling chair behind the glass desk. It moved from side to side.

The young woman placed the coaster on the desk, putting the mug on it. She placed the folder she held in the in-tray and took a step back.  The chair behind the desk swiveled still, side to side.

Her gaze moved to the pictures that lined the walls. They were photos of past clients, employee parties, a painting of the ocean and a picture of Koya Kalahari. This was the most interesting one; it was large, but not enough to stick out in the collection.  Koya was smiling into the camera; she seemed in a relaxed mood, and quite at ease.

The swiveling chair stopped and turned, drawing the young woman’s attention. She reached into her pocket and got a small notebook. Her gaze on the woman sitting in the leather armchair staring at her cell phone.

This Koya Kalahari was not in a relaxed mood. She looked frustrated and ready to tear the head off someone.

“Trouble?”

Koya looked at her.

“The graphic designer is having trouble seeing the big picture. Our new client has issues with his work and he’s not fixing it. This client could sign a five-year contract with Ave Ad. We need to do this right. Damn it, I have to go over to their offices before my lunch with Kim.”

“Anything I can do?”

Koya picked up the mug of coffee and took a sip. She gave a sigh of bliss and smiled.

“You’re doing great, Linda. Any calls?”

Linda returned the smile because it was impossible not to. She read her trusty notebook.

“Anthony from the club called, the accountant is going to stop by, and he wanted you there. Your dentist’s secretary says your appointment is on Friday morning. Also, an Ashi Mwende called. She said to call her back.”

“Any calls from Ashi come straight through,” Koya advised, “no matter what.”

“Yes Madam,” Linda said noting it in her book. She was a week old on the job.

“Anything else?” Koya asked.

“Ms. Adele from PW says that your advice is needed on the posters for the gala. There’s also a package out there for you.”

“Any project Adele is on is purely for show,” Koya said under breath. “But don’t listen to me, Linda. It’s all for a good cause.”

Koya picked up a handful of folders from the out-tray and held them out to Linda.

“Give this to Creative. They will know what to do with them. Get Adele’s assistant on the line for me. Not Adele, Linda, her assistant, got it?”

“Got it,” Linda replied. “What would you like me to do with the package out there?”

“Bring it in,” Koya said with a frown.

Linda was sure Koya thought she was being ludicrous.

“But Madam, the package—,” Linda broke off. “Well, it’s really large. You’d have to see it.”

Koya studied her for a moment, then took her coffee mug and got up. She led the way out of the office to go check out the package. In a tan pair of straight trousers, a matching j-crew blouse, her feet in tan wedges, and her hair always in long beautiful braids, Koya looked polished.

Linda envied Koya her confidence. The woman commanded respect and loyalty with a single glance.

Out in the secretary’s office, Koya stared at the large box filling one corner of the reception area. The brown box was wrapped with green tape, with a flower shop business stamp on the side.

“How did they get that in here?” Koya asked. She sipped her coffee and placed the mug on Linda’s desk. She placed her hands on her hips as she took in the massive box.

“Two men came in carrying it. They looked pretty strong, and didn’t have a problem with it.”

“I bet,” Koya said. “What do you think it is? Have we ordered anything from a flower shop?”

“No,” Linda said. “Unless it’s personal?”

She glanced at Koya.

Koya scoffed and shook her head.  “What if it’s a bomb?”

“Who’d want to bomb an advertising agency?”

“The competition,” Koya said. “Business is stiff out there, you know. Hell, it might be Adele. That woman hates me.”

Linda laughed. “It could be a gift. Maybe you won something.”

Koya wrinkled her nose in doubt.  “Well, we won’t find out until it’s open. Pass me those scissors.”

Linda grabbed a pink pair from her desk and helped Koya open the mysterious package. They worked together for two minutes, and when they finished, they both stood back from the package staring at it again.

Koya looked dumbstruck. The day was getting heavy with surprises.

“A tree,” Linda said, amazed. “Someone send you a tree. Who sends a tree to an office? What happened to good old flowers?”

“The pot alone sure set the sender back cash wise,” Koya noted.

“It’s a freaking tree. What’s up with men these days?” Linda asked.

Koya burst out laughing. It was too good. The tree was a Japanese Cider. She had two growing at her home. They made for great shade.

“What?” Linda asked when she stopped laughing.

“How do you know it’s a man?”

“It’s a tree in the middle of an office. Only a man would think of that,” Linda said.

Koya smiled. “It could be one of our clients thanking us with a tree. The whole Wangari Maathai thing is going around. Or, maybe the florist made a mistake.”

“We’re on the sixth floor. I doubt a florist would make such a mistake.”

Koya grinned. “I don’t know what to say, Linda. Why don’t you call the number on the stamp? Figure it out for me. Whoever it is must be very interesting.”

Linda took out her notebook to jot down the numbers.

“I’m on it,” she said, her new job was going to be interesting, that was what.

***

Koya reclaimed her mug of coffee with a smile and went back to her office. She sat down behind her desk and a picture frame on the edge of her desk caught her attention. Three women smiled into the camera. Picking up her office phone, she punched a number from memory and waited a few minutes as it rang.

“Oasis Bookstore, how may I help you?” a cheerful voice answered.

“You’ll never guess what came in a package.”

“A man,” Ashi Mwende guessed.

“Wrong,” Koya said, still smiling, “But I do have a tree, a tall tree in an expensive pot. Can you imagine that?”

“I suppose that is thinking outside the box,” Ashi said with a laugh. “Flowers are so overrated.”

“Only you would say that. Anyway, forget the forestry in my office. What did you want to say to me?”

“I was hoping we could have lunch,” Ashi said, her tone hesitant.

“I’m having lunch with Kim. You could crash,” Koya said.

“You’re seeing Kim today?” Ashi asked. She was now happy, almost hopeful.

“Yes.” Koya frowned. “Is there something going on?”

“No. Nothing is wrong,” Ashi said. “You know what, how about we meet tonight at the club. Bring Hana with you; we can have a girl’s night out.”

“Sounds good,” Koya said, wondering what Ashi so out of sorts. Her cell phone buzzed on her desk and she sighed.

“The business is calling. Can I talk to you later?”

“Sure, don’t forget tonight,” Ashi said.

“I won’t,” Koya said, wondering what Ashi wanted to tell her that she was leaving up to Kim.

***

To be Continued….Thank you for Reading ^_^

Previous Chapter

Koya’s Choice – 4

Koya’s Choice – 2

Two – A Mother’s Love

Charlie was leaving.

Koya shifted in her seat to face him.

“Uhm…”

“My mother is afraid I’ll end up like Tony,” Charlie explained. “She asked my father to take me with him.”

“Turn out like Tony?” Koya frowned. “You’re not Tony, Charlie.”

“She’s my mother. I can’t fight her on this. She’s had it rough with my brother’s death.”

“So…when are you leaving?”

Charlie shrugged.

“I made a deal with my mother. She’ll let me graduate, so we have the rest of the year together, Koya. It will be okay.”

“You’re leaving me,” Koya said. “How is that okay?”

“I’m not leaving yet,” Charlie said.

He took her right hand, holding her gaze.

“I don’t want to leave, Koya, but it was this or leave next week with my dad.”

A year, Koya thought, she only had Charlie for a year.

“I hate your mother,” she said.

“Don’t,” Charlie soothed, lifting his free hand, he caressed her right cheek with a smile. “She’s worried, you know that, right?”

Koya sighed because she understood Ashley Dhali’s fear.

“Koya, whether I’m here, or abroad, you matter to me. You’ll always be my girl no matter where I am.”

“I should record these lines,” Koya said on a laugh. “No one would believe you say them, bad boy.”

“Only for you, princess,” Charlie said.

He leaned over to kiss her, a soft kiss that left her heart fluttering in excitement. She couldn’t help wrapping her arms around him, drawing him into a tight hug.  A year didn’t seem enough.

“We should go,” she said against his shoulder.

“In a bit,” Charlie said holding her.

***

At the club, Koya allowed Charlie to open the door for her and waited while locked the car. He took her hand in his as they walked up to the club’s entrance. Loud music filled the warm evening as they entered Club Klutz. A group of girls swept past them dressed in slinky dresses. Koya ran a hand down her hip hugging tight jeans and clingy blue blouse. Her hair was in a slick ponytail, she’d visited the salon that morning.

Charlie glanced at her with a grin.

“You look sexy, Kalahari. Otherwise I’d let you know.”

She smiled, her cheeks flaming.

Charlie slipped his arm around her waist, navigating through the crowded club. A few patrons called out to Charlie, and as he waved back, she found her thoughts preoccupied with the news of Charlie leaving. He was taking it well. He smiled, and laughed as though their world wasn’t about to rip in two.
“Hey,” a familiar voice said above. “Koya, Charlie, up here.”

Koya looked up to see Ashi Mwende leaning on the railing upstairs. Koya waved at her, and allowed Charlie to lead the way upstairs. Ashi, short and cute, her hair short and blown out, rushed Koya, engulfing her in a tight hug. Ashi let her go and hugged Charlie too.
Behind Ashi, Bernard ‘Kim’ Kimani strolled in a more leisurely pace. Kim was an inch taller than Charlie was. He wore his hair long, his body built for hard labor: toned in hard muscle. Dressed in a blue t-shirt and a pair of black jeans and boots, Koya imagined Kim would have a lucrative career in hip-hop. He had the look for it.
There was a time Koya had thought Ashi and Kim would make a great couple, but they were too alike. Ashi said they made good friends.

“What took you so long?” Kim asked in greeting. He kissed Koya’s cheek and glanced at Charlie. “I thought you weren’t coming.”

“Charlie was giving me a confession,” Koya said. Her gaze slid to Charlie before she allowed Ashi to lead her to the lounge seats along the wall.

“You couldn’t wait,” Kim said to his best friend.

“She threatened to walk away from me,” Charlie said with a shrug. He took a seat across Koya and reached for a bottle of Heineken on the table. It looked like Ashi and Kim had made their usual orders. Charlie took a healthy swig straight from the bottle and winked at Koya. “I can’t have that.”

Ashi sat next to Koya. “I know Charlie leaving is sudden, but we have a year with him.”

“I can handle it,” Koya said, not wanting to be the one who took this news badly. Charlie seemed relaxed. Ashi and Kim were not stressing either. Why would she be the one bent out of shape? “He’ll be back anyway, right Charlie?”

“Right,” Charlie said, holding her gaze.

“Unless he goes there and falls for a Taiwanese girl,” Kim teased with a sparkle in his eyes. “Charlie might start talking Chinese, and then before you know it, he will love it there.”

“Stop being an ass,” Charlie said.

“Well, I hear they have the best seafood with the exception of snails,” Ashi said, ever the optimist.

“Snails are not seafood,” Kim pointed out.

“Did I say they were?” Ashi asked. “Don’t listen to him, Charlie. He’s jealous.”

“Guys, I’m not leaving yet,” Charlie said.

Koya listened to them bicker. She smiled when they made jokes, and laughed where appropriate, yet inside she worried. She hoped her heart would be stronger by the time Charlie left.  Charlie noticed her brooding and leaned over to hand her his drink. He winked at her when she took the bottle.

***

They stayed out all night. Charlie dropped Koya and Kim at Ashi’s house the next morning at Six a.m. He drove home feeling lighter, his anger soothed. He could breathe without pain.

Charlie was grateful Koya had taken his news so well. She’d remained so calm, not a teardrop in sight. He loved that about her. Koya was level headed.

The night watchman opened the gates and he drove up the driveway to the main house. Charlie parked the car behind the house, in case his mother had woken up already. He used the kitchen door to enter the house. Removing his shoes, he tiptoed down the corridor to the stairs that went up to the second floor.

“Where have you been?” Ashley Dhali asked as he took the first step.

He looked up to see his mother standing at the living room entrance.

Charlie sighed, wishing he could escape her. He held on to the balustrade as he turned to face her.

“Answer me, Charlie.”

“I’m not sure what you want me to say. You’ll scream at me no matter my excuse, so get it over with.”

“I don’t recognize you anymore,” Ashley said. “What has happened to you?”

“I’m still the same person,” Charlie said, exasperated. “You’re the one that’s changed, Mom. You keep seeing Tony when you look at me, but I’m Charlie, Mom. I’m not Tony.”

“I know who you are, Charlie,” Ashley said. “I’m going to make sure you don’t end up like your brother. I allowed Tony too much freedom, and look where it got him. He’s in a grave. Do you think I’m enjoying this?”

“I know how you feel about Tony’s death, but I’m different,” Charlie said. “I won’t do the same things he did.”

“Really?” Ashley pointed at her cell phone. “Look at the time. It’s almost seven o’clock in the morning. You left last night. What do I know you’ve been doing out there? Were you with those friends of yours?”

Charlie winced. His mother had developed a distinct dislike for Koya, Ashi and Kim.

“I’ve warned you everyday these past two weeks. You’ve refused to listen.”

“They are my friends, Mom. You’ve known them for years.”

“That girl is the cause of all this, you would never have disobeyed me before. Now you talk back at will. I forbid you to see her again.”

“Koya’s my girlfriend and I love her. You can’t forbid me from seeing her. Mom—

“You’re twenty years old, Charlie. You don’t know how you feel. Trust me, don’t see her again.”

“Try and stop me,” Charlie snarled in anger. What was wrong with his mother?

“I will destroy them all,” Ashley warned. “Are you sure you want to keep pushing?”

“Mom,” Charlie said in shock.

Ashley Dhali’s threats were not light. She held power in her elegant palm. Her anger had crashed many in business, social circles, even in political circles.

“Test me, Charlie,” Ashley said, her eyes alight with an emotion that frightened him.

Charlie wished his father hadn’t left for the coast so soon after Tony’s funeral.

“Koya has a sponsor for her university, right? A few calls and it can be withdrawn. What about Kim? He’s a nice boy. His father’s construction company will develop loan problems. It’s very easy to make that happen. By the time the problems are cleared…well, business will be over. And Ashi, is it? She’s also on scholarship, isn’t she?”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Try me,” Ashley warned.

****

Thank you for reading ^_^

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Koya’s Choice – 1

One – The Start of the End

A broken sob caught his attention. Charlie turned to his right to see his mother cry into a pristine whiteindex handkerchief. Her tears endless, her sobs heart wrenching. She cried for her first-born child, Tony.

The one she loved more, he thought.

His father stood beside his mother, an arm wrapped around her shoulders, grounding her lest she disappear. Dark sunglasses covered his father’s face. Most assumed it was because of the blazing sun, the unrelenting sun rays found at the equator, but he knew his father cried too. The glasses hid swollen eyes, and tear stained cheeks. Charlie looked away from his father and tagged on his suit jacket. He couldn’t believe his mother had insisted he retain his suit in this blazing sun.

“We have to keep up appearances, Charlie,” his mother had insisted.

Her grief was hard to bear.

Damn, Charlie Dhali thought, letting a sigh escape.

His world was over. He stared at his brother’s casket and wondered at the rage brewing inside him. He should be grieving for Tony; instead, burning anger grew with every minute.

Charlie clenched his fists, closing his eyes as the priest recited the final rites and the funeral home attendants moved to remove flowers from the casket. The rage flamed inside as he watched Tony’s casket lowered to the ground.
He was angry with Tony. So angry, he wanted to scream but couldn’t. He couldn’t do much but stand with calm in this occasion. Not with his mother two feet away crying, her sobs tearing through him and his father. All their relatives and friends watched, waiting to see them crack as Tony was laid to rest.

Charlie wanted to scream in anger at the injustice that had taken his brother. His parents would force him to take on more responsibility, all because Tony Dhali couldn’t have the sense to stay away from trouble. Charlie felt a tear slide down his cheek. Life wasn’t fair.

***

“Look, that’s Hugh Kalahari’s daughter.”

The words drifted to her without trouble. Koya shook her head in amusement. Gossip was expected living in the Ndwaru Rd Estate. The estate was a mess of complicated relationships that supplied the gossip mongers with fresh fodder by the hour. Everyone knew everything about everyone.

“She must be back from college for the funeral. I heard she’s friends with that Dhali boy.”

“Well, it’s nice she is in college, but let’s hope it stays that way. Who knows what could happen if she pushes it with the Dhali boy.”

Koya gave the three women seated at a vegetable stall a hard look. They smiled and waved at her and she sighed. It was no use. The gossip would continue. She capitulated and offered a smile in return. The women lost interest and moved on to the next victim.

Koya increased her pace. She continued up the slight hill on the main estate road heading for the Dhali Manor at the top.

The Dhalis were the richest family on Ndwaru Rd. Isaac Dhali had made his money through foreign investments and real estate. He had built his precious wife a huge manor on the six acres of land he owned. The couple had two children: Tony and Charles Dhali.

Well, one now, Koya thought.

Two weeks ago, the Dhalis had lost Tony at a club shooting at the Ndwaru Rd. shopping center. Nobody knew the reason why Tony was shot, but the rumor mills were working on overdrive. Word was that Tony sold drugs; others said that Tony joined a gang and had pissed off the big boss.

Koya frowned.

Well, the speculation aside, her boyfriend, Charles, was having a hard time dealing with Tony’s death. Which made her depressed too because she truly loved Charles Dhali and hated to see him suffer.  Her cell phone buzzed and she answered with a small smile when she saw the caller ID.

“I’m coming up the hill,” Koya said. “I needed to drop off documents at the chief’s place for my father.”

“You could let me pick you up,” Charlie complained. “We’re not fooling anyone, Koya. There is no point hiding our relationship.”

“At college, you may pick me up all you want, but not here,” Koya said. There was no need to give proof to the rumor mill.

Koya cleared the hill and took a right turn on to a tarmac road that would lead her to the Dhalis’ main gate.

“I’m at the front, you can come out now.”

“You’re exasperating,” Charlie said into his phone. “Give me two minutes to drive out. Don’t talk to the guards. I get jealous.”

“You’re so bossy,” Koya said with a laugh.

She ended the call, smiling to herself; she stopped right before she reached the gate. Putting her cell phone into her pocket, she hoped she was dressed appropriately for the evening. The plan was to hang out with friends before they all headed to university the day after tomorrow. At least there, she wouldn’t have to worry about what people said about her and Charlie.

Koya decided she would make it up to Charlie. The gates opened and a black jeep appeared.  Charlie drove like a maniac. She took a cautious step back on the sidewalk as he stopped with a screech. Charlie leaned over to push open the passenger door. Koya held on to the door and stood taking in Charlie’s welcoming smile.

Charlie was handsome. Dark skin, beautiful dark eyes, strong jaw and the sexiest mouth she’d ever seen. Of course, she would never tell him her thoughts. His ego would only inflate higher. Charlie was born with a golden spoon in his mouth. His mother had reared him as one would take care of an egg. In return, Charlie had developed an ego that could piss off the entire world.

However, Charlie had a good heart. She loved him for that good heart.

“Are you getting in, or are you going to stare at me all night?” Charlie asked. “Come on, woman.”

Koya grinned and climbed on to the passenger seat. Charlie started driving off as she closed the door. She reached for the seat belt, struggling to put it on. Charlie stopped at the turn to help her snap it in before he stepped on the gas pedal and took off down the main road out of Desturi Estate.

“You should consider a chill pill when driving, Charlie,” Koya said, once they hit the first major road and had to slow down because of traffic. “Where are we headed?”

“Westlands,” Charlie answered, his tone curt. “Kim and Ashi are waiting at the club.”

“What’s wrong with you?” Koya asked, hating the tense tone in his voice. “Is it your mum?”

“She won’t get off my case,” Charlie said, bitterness colored his voice.

“Is it me?” Koya asked.

Ashley Dhali had changed of late. Charlie’s mother seemed to hate her now.

Koya frowned. “She hasn’t been very receptive to us being together.”

“I don’t care what she thinks,” Charlie said. “It’s my life and you’re in it, period. God I can’t wait to get back to Cuea. We can have peace and quiet.”

Catholic University of Eastern Africa, known as Cuea for short, was the university they all attended: her, Charlie, Kim and Ashi. Charlie and Kim were two years ahead. She and Ashi were in their second year. Koya worried about Charlie graduating first. It felt like their relationship would end.

“What’s really going on?” Koya asked after a while.

They were speeding on Waiyaki Way, headed to Westlands. One of their college friends had a club opening tonight. She knew asking questions before a night out was relationship suicide, but she couldn’t take not knowing anymore. Charlie had an uncontrollable anger raging through him. She needed to understand it.

“It’s nothing,” Charlie said.

He started to turn on the radio but she turned it off.

“I’ve had it,” Koya said. “I know you’re sad because of Tony’s death, but we can’t go on this way. Tell me what’s wrong, or I’m going to make your mother happy by walking away.”

“You’re kidding right now,” Charlie said, his eyes wide when she finished her tirade.

“I’m not,” Koya snapped.

Charlie pulled off the highway with one abrupt jerk and parked the car on the curb across ABC Place. He switched off the engine and stared out the windshield with a glare.

“Charlie—

“My mother is sending me away with my father,” Charlie said. “My father is going to Taipei. I didn’t know how to tell you.”

Koya gasped.

***

To be continued…

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