She met Apham at a shopping mall. He offered to pay for her basket of expensive skincare products, flashing her a toothy smile as he pulled out his wallet. She looked at him in surprise, the cashier who had already collected her credit card looked at her waiting for her reply. He took the surprise as a reply and collected the card from the cashier, handing her his own.

“You didn’t have to,” she said as they walked out of the shopping mall. She hadn’t fully recovered from the effects of his smile.

“For a beautiful lady like you, I can do anything,” he replied. He followed her to her car. “I’m Apham, and may I ask your name?”

“You have a sweet mouth, don’t you?” She rolled her eyes at him.

“I’ll take that as a compliment.” He bowed slightly. “And would you do this sweet-mouthed fellow the honour of knowing your name?”

She smiled, and because she enjoyed his play at chivalry she said, “I’m Ijeoma, nice to meet you.” He took her hand and placed a light kiss on the back. She felt her stomach fluttered and immediately pulled her hand away when she noticed a group of girls eyeing them. She’d left that day without giving him her number, nor him asking for hers. He had said that if they met three times, then that meant that fate was on their side.

Despite the feelings he sparked in her that day, by the next week, she had forgotten about him. He became one of the countless men that expressed light interest in her. The second time they met was at a night carnival. The chances of them meeting had been so slim, that if it weren’t for one of her friends, they wouldn’t have seen each other. She had her hand tucked in the arms of Gabriel and could hardly excuse herself from the interview that they were currently having. Apham had looked at her with a smile, waving two fingers at her. She had replied with a small smile wondering if seeing each other in passing counted as meeting for the second time. She had looked around for him over the sea of heads, but he had already disappeared.

The third time they met, they exchanged phone numbers and Apham invited her for a business program. At that time, she had been helping in managing her father’s business so she had attended the program to gain more knowledge. After the four-hour-long seminar, Apham invited her out for dinner. An offer she had refused as Gabriel had sent her a message earlier that day that they would be attending a prayer session together.

Gabriel had begun making his plans to marry her clear in small ways. He signed them up for a number of couples programs in the church. His parents had accepted her, his mother invited her for Sunday lunches in their home and called her from time to time to ask about her well-being. The signs were all there, and she could hardly halt the fast-moving vehicle.

Gabriel had proposed on her 24th birthday. For both their sakes, she was glad that he had done it in the privacy of his home. Even though she had expected it, when he went down on his knees and asked her the question, she still gasped as he brought out the glittering ring. He had watched her with wide, expectant eyes, waiting for her to nod and accept the ring, but his expression fell as she slowly shook her head with an apologetic look on her face. The ring fell from his hands, and he had leaned back on his crutches.

“Is there another person?” he asked in a croaked voice.

Ijeoma shook her head. She and Apham didn’t have any sort of relationship between them at that time. He was like one of the guys on her contact that asked her out and like with other people her reply had always been a firm no. Apham respected her reply, and had taken to forwarding business tips and information to her, and checking on her from time to time.

After that night, it became obvious to her and Gabriel that the relationship was going nowhere, much to the disappointment of friends and family around them. They broke up but still remain friends. Gabriel still loved her and he showed it despite respecting the friendship between them.

Apham hopped on as soon as he found out that she was single. He pestered her until she finally gave in to go on a date with him. The first date they had was disastrous. It was now a joke between them.

Apham had picked the classic venue for the date, a restaurant located in a quiet area in Victoria Island. All had been going well. Apham had picked her up from her house, and even the one-hour hold-up they had faced in traffic didn’t deter the excited air between them. They were still getting to know each other, yet their conversations had none of the tentative edge that first date conversations came with. She laughed loudly in the car even snorting. He bought roast corn from one of the roadside sellers, and they shared the cob that remained after they had each taken one. They had barely sat down when they got to the restaurant and Apham started complaining of stomach ache. Ijeoma had to sit awkwardly at the table while she waited for him. A waitress stood by the table waiting for her to order, but how could she order when Apham was absent. After fifteen long minutes of waiting, Apham returned to the table. His expression was not good, but he faked a smile and urged her to order. She ordered even though she was concerned about him. He ordered a plate of rice.

As the order arrived, he stood up and went to use the restroom again, this time staying for twenty minutes. Ijeoma had lost appetite for the food in front of her and when he returned, she asked him what was wrong

He’d had an embarrassed look on his face as he told her that his stomach was reacting to the roasted corn that they had eaten. It turned out that it was his first time eating it.

They left the restaurant, stopping by a pharmacy to buy some drugs. Apham had insisted on dropping her at home though he kept wincing behind the wheel. They had bid each other goodbye on an awkward note, Apham worried that he had put off Ijeoma with his constant visits to the toilet, and Ijeoma concerned about his health.

A month passed before Apham contacted her again. During that period, Ijeoma had worried that something about her had put him off, maybe the way she tore at the corn cobs with reckless abandon. Apham on the other hand had felt too embarrassed to call her but when he did, the whole thing was swept under the carpet.