street

“Hey Halliday,” a man called, jogging to catch up with Tunde’s long-legged stride across the hall. He tapped the man’s shoulder and smirked when Tunde peered over his shoulder at him. “I keep forgetting, sorry.”

Tunde gave his colleague, Samuel Chen, a patient smile and slowed his steps. “What’s up?”

The man gestured over his shoulder at the room where their other coworkers leisurely strolled out into the lobby. “You don’t think she’ll budge, do you?”

Tunde smirked. “You think too much, Chen.” He tucked the 3-inch binder under his arm as they turned a corner into the main floor of the library. His eyes quickly scanned the lobby as if looking for someone. It was almost midnight but there were students loitering. He shook his head. Someone like her would be sensible enough to stay at home instead of hanging out. His loss since he wanted to see her.

Samuel tapped his shoulder to get his attention, his brows drawn in a concerned line. “But we need this grant. What if she doesn’t agree to it?”

“It’s a good program. You heard everyone in there.” He reached out to pat the man’s shoulder. “You worry too much, Chen…” Tunde trailed off, spotting her right away. He tucked in a smile and turned back to his concerned colleague. “I’ll see you at the office later this week. Go relax,” he instructed and without waiting for the man’s reply, he walked around him after the girl now hobbling toward a row of bookshelves.

“That’s because I worry for the both of us!” Samuel called after him, rewarded with a dark glare and a sharp shush from the librarian sitting behind her desk just a few feet away. Frowning after Tunde who was now striding across the hallway, Samuel shook his head and turned away to converse with the others who had joined him on the main floor.

 —

All throughout the second night session, Anaya found that her mind refused to concentrate on anything but the man now occupying her thoughts. Tunde Halliday. Even after the session was dismissed and she’d decided to wait for Giselle who was chatting with several boys on campus, she crossed the street to the library for one book for her late night study session. She caught herself glancing around the main floor of the library in search for the tall, dark man who drove her home earlier.

Wrinkling her nose for being silly, she forced her mind to scan the list of current antidepressants instead. Her eyes lifted up from the book, lips moving silently to memorize another set of pharmacology terms when her lips stilled, the word trailing off as she spotted him. Cocky smile in place, his slim dark tie pulled at the collar and his slim-fit navy blue jacket unbuttoned, flying as he strode toward her.

She swallowed hard, gaping for a moment as she took in his slim physique and strong long legs swinging with purpose. Realizing she was staring, Anaya spun on her heels and started to walk ahead.

“Hey wait!” he called, laughter in his voice as he reached her side.

Anaya bit her bottom lip, grimacing as he chuckled at her silliness no doubt.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were avoiding me…” he tilted his head even as he circled to stand in front of her. His eyes scanned her face, one corner of his lips tugged up in amusement. “How are you?” He looked down at her leg. “How’s your ankle?”

“Fine,” she forced out, annoyed that her shoulders eased their tension at the sight of him. To her horror, she realized she’d been worried that he was the one avoiding her. “Now excuse me…” she mumbled, stepping around him to continue her retreat to the back of the library.

He chuckled, easing in step beside her. “What book are you reading?” he peeked down at it. “BCPJ… Antidepressant—” Tunde straightened, not losing a step even as hers quickened toward the row of bookshelves. He merely smiled as Anaya tucked the book, covering the words as she rounded the shelf and walked over to a desk near the back wall. Hiding a chuckle with a slight cough, Tunde took the seat opposite her and propped his elbows on the table.

Anaya’s face warmed at his open perusal but she refused to look at him. Couldn’t or she would completely lose her focus.

“So when are we going on our date?”

Her eyes flicked up to his face, her brow furrowed deeply at the amused look in his black eyes. She forced her gaze to the closed book and quickly pulled it open, refusing to speak.

“Are you busy studying or are you ignoring me, Ana?”

Anaya looked up and narrowed her eyes at him. “What do you think?” She bit the inside of her cheek when his mouth split into a wide, amused grin. She dragged her eyes back to the book.

“Okay, I won’t bother you… Anyway, this is probably the last day you’ll see me here. I return to the office next week. And it seemed only reasonable to set our date plans before I leave.”

“I don’t date,” Anaya murmured, flipping a page of the book.

“Ana, could you look up? I can’t read what you’re saying when your head is down like that.”

Anaya frowned and glanced up curiously at him. “What do you mean?”

He gave her that slow patient smile. “I have to read your lips to hear what you’re saying.”

“I don’t…understand.” Her eyes searched his for the truth.

Tunde nodded and lifted a finger to tap on his left ear. “Deaf.”

Something heavy dropped in the pit of her stomach and she gaped at him, jaw slack.

His smile remained and his black eyes softened. “You don’t believe me?”

Anaya shook her head. “I-it’s not that.” She frowned, recalling the times he’d stared down at her lips, or turned around to stare at her whenever she spoke. She shook her head again. “How…?”

“An accident when I was fourteen.” Tunde shrugged. “I can hear muffled voices, so not completely deaf. But I do have to read your lips…”

“I’m sorry,” she answered dumbly.

“I’m not.” His own lips tugged a gentle smile. “You have a very beautiful mouth. You speak very eloquently,” he added slowly.

Anaya’s cheeks warmed under his open gaze and she glanced down. Then just as quickly, remembering his condition, she snapped her eyes back to him.

When she didn’t say anything else, Tunde leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. “I didn’t tell you that to feel sorry for me… except if it gets you to accept a date with me.” Again with the slow smile.

Anaya laughed softly and looked down, shaking her head.

“Is that a yes or still a no?” Tunde asked, tilting his head to peer down at her lips.

His gentle voice drew her eyes back to his face. A smile of her own tugged her lips and she searched his black eyes. “Maybe…”

He leaned back, satisfied grin in place. “Maybe, I can handle.”

Anaya lowered her eyes shyly, feeling the heaviness lift from her stomach.

“By the way, why are you out here so late?” His brow furrowed with open concern.

“I’m waiting for a classmate to drive me home. Another study session.”

“Study sessions at night, huh…” Tunde tilted his head to study her curiously. “What, that girl you were with last time? Giselle or something?”

“Yup, that’s her name…” Anaya smiled. “You have a good memory.”

He smirked back. “You know what they say about once you lose one sense, the others get more acute.”

Anaya rolled her eyes. “I don’t think that applies to memory.”

Tunde flashed his signature smile. “I’m pulling your leg.”

“Consider it pulled.” Anaya couldn’t believe how comfortable it seemed talking with this man. Although she’d seen him times before, he was still very much a stranger.

He chuckled, scanning her face leisurely. “I can take you home, if you want. Won’t your parents be worried that you’re out so late?”

No doubt her father would be sitting in the dimly-lit living room, waiting for her to return. Thankfully her mother was working tonight and wouldn’t add to the worry. Anaya shrugged. “They will but I already told them Giselle would drop me off. But thanks.”

“Want me to wait around until she gets here?” He asked further and Anaya noted that he wasn’t making any move to stand yet, his lithe body sprawled on the chair before her.

“It’s alright.”

“You don’t want me to distract you, huh?” his grin was lopsided, almost penitent.

Anaya shook her head, ignoring the minor skip of her heartbeat. “It’s not that…” Truthfully, she was still trying to get her mind around him being half-deaf and yet so normal. All the people she knew that were deaf didn’t seem this confident with themselves or around other people. He was both.

Tunde leaned forward and Anaya involuntarily leaned back. His eyes searched her face, gentle smile in place. “Don’t feel sorry for me, Ana. I’m just as much a man as any other. A man who wants very much to go out with you. Get to know you. You’ll let me know when I can take you out, right?”

Anaya’s cheeks warmed, shy from his candid words but she kept her head up. “I’ll think about it.” Her heart skipped a beat when his dark eyes shifted to her lips before lifting back to her eyes.

Tunde dipped his head in acknowledgment before leaning back. “Take your time, baby girl.” He winked then and rose to his feet. “Hope your friend doesn’t take too long.” He shoved one hand in his pocket and smiled gently down at her. “And don’t stay out too late. Hope to see you around.” With that, he spun on his heels and strode away from the table, leaving Anaya to stare after him.

“Baby girl!?!” Leeza sat up on the bed, gaping at Anaya as her older sister limped to the other side of the room. She slapped her thighs, grinning from ear to ear. “You skipped the first name base and already have nicknames for each other? What’s his nickname?”

Milo, a tall drink of chocolate goodness. Anaya frowned at her sister from across the room, pulling off her sweater. “There are no nicknames. Stop being silly.”

Leeza chuckled, tilting her head curiously. “You’re lying. You do have a nickname for him. What is it?”

Anaya rolled her eyes as she plopped on the desk chair by the window and folded her arms. “He has no nickname. The guy’s name is Tunde and that’s the end of that.” She could feel the warmth rising on her face and clenched her jaw against it, annoyed that she’d even thought of it. Her eyes returned to Leeza. “Where’s Dad? I didn’t notice him when I came in.”

Leeza wrinkled her nose at the change of subject and lay back on Anaya’s bed. She curled up against the pillow, still keeping her eyes on Anaya. “Someone in the community was shot. A scuffle between two college students downtown… So Dad had to go.”

Her eyes widened and she sat up. “Who? What happened?”

Leeza frowned, shrugging her shoulders. “I didn’t hear the details but I think it was between a stupid Yoruba guy and one of ours that got into it…” She sucked in her teeth in annoyance. “I can’t stand the way they fight. For whatever reason it was, it’s all very stupid.”

Anaya leaned back in her seat, her brow furrowed as she lowered her gaze to the carpeted floor. Deep in thought, she wondered about the two victims of a growing, violent rivalry between her people and the local lawless Yoruba youths and her heart twisted in pain, as if recalling that Tunde Halliday was a Yoruba man…

<<Part 4 || Part 6>>

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