Abayomi crossed her legs tightly, imagining possibilities that could have been. Suddenly, the independence she fought so long and fiercely for wasn’t all that interesting anymore. Her attention was still with the ghost of that man and she sipped the wine to drown it away. She didn’t like feeling dependent on someone’s invitation. It was a weakness. She dabbled in the mystery of his name, which she hadn’t discovered, but in reality she was also asking just who this person was that she had become?
It didn’t feel as if she’d had too much wine, but when Abayomi got up to see what the commotion behind her was all about, she definitely wasn’t as stable as her normal self. Someone shouted for a doctor while standing above a choking woman. She’d already gone blue and looked ghastly as her companion tried to frantically dislodge a particle of food from her throat. Suddenly, the man pumping at her chest also collapsed into a coughing fit. Abayomi pulled herself together as he lay on the ground, unable to breathe. She couldn’t believe her eyes.
“Pia!” she muttered in a panic.
By the time Abayomi reached her, all the guests seated alongside Pia were bent over and choking too. With one hand around her throat and the other reaching out to Abayomi, Pia gasped for help. Abayomi took Pia’s hand and cradled her friend in her lap. Tears flowed down Abayomi’s cheeks as she cried out for help amidst the pandemonium. And that’s when the unfinished dinners caught her attention. Abayomi sniffed the leftovers in Pia’s plate – luckily she hadn’t felt like having dinner.
“Consider this a warning from the people of South Africa whose lives have been taken away from them!” a waiter’s shouting bellowed through the dining hall.
Other waiters tossed away the trays they carried, and they joined in, with their fists in the air, shouting ‘Viva National Liberation Army’. They went on the rampage towards the delegates, but shot off for the kitchen as security closed in on them. Little skirmishes broke out here and there as security pounced, but the damage of what seemed to be a calculated xenophobic attack was done. The conference could certainly not go on without the affected delegates.
In the distance, a voice drawled out of the speakers, something about the effects of the poison only lasting a few days. Abayomi ignored this until she noticed that the masked man from whom the message came was being chased down the long row of tables by security. He was running while still shouting into the mike and she couldn’t help thinking that there was something familiar about that voice. But it couldn’t be, could it?
Guests shrieked in horror as the masked man leapt from one row of dining tables to another, changing direction to escape the security men giving chase. Food was kicked everywhere as the thug and a few security guards came storming toward Abayomi. She got up to shield Pia from harm just as a security guard got the upper hand on the masked man by pulling the table cloth from beneath his feet. The man tumbled to the floor right in front of Abayomi. He rose swiftly to his feet and caught her just as she lost her balance on those strappy stilettos.
“Thank you,” Abayomi said instinctively, only then realizing how inappropriate manners could be sometimes.
Up close, she noticed that his mask was nothing but a handkerchief tied around his head but Abayomi swore that he was none other than the fair-haired man with whom she’d just shared a glass of vino. He pulled her sharply to her feet again, but by then security and police had surrounded them. Guns clicked as they were pointed at him, so he swung his arm around Abayomi, swiftly grabbing a steak knife from the table and holding it to her throat. She froze like a doe in the headlights. Even the tears she shed for Pia’s safety stopped flowing from the shock. She knew it was him – the man with no name. Minutes ago she had revealed herself to him and now there was a steak knife between them instead of a burgeoning romance. How could she trust her instincts now?
Slowly, her captor backed up. With his arm pulling her from around the neck, Abayomi was dragged with him, on limp legs, through the kitchen swing doors. The last thing she saw before the doors swung closed was Pia stretching her hand out to her, while she lay choking on the floor. How could they help each other now that they were out of each other’s sight? In a flash, the xenophobe escaped with Abayomi into the dark night.
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