“Congratulations, Grayson. I heard about your engagement. Kendall is a lovely girl. Your families must be so thrilled.”
I forced a smile. “Thank you, Lady Sarridge. Yes, our families are very pleased.”
“I wish you both a lifetime of happiness.”
“Thank you, Lady Sarridge.”
“Thank you for the invitation. Mr. Seton and I look forward to being at Cedarcroft Hall on Saturday. Please give our warmest regards to your dear Mother and Father.”
“I will, Lady Sarridge. Good afternoon.”
“Good afternoon, Dear boy.”
As I turned and walked out of the living-room, I heard her remark to the Butler, “What sweet and well-mannered young man. If Lord Sarridge and I had a daughter, I should think that we would have liked her to have been fortunate to meet and marry someone just like him.”
I wonder if she still would have esteemed me so highly if she knew about my scandalous secret. As I settled my tall frame into my sports car, my thoughts drifted back ten years ago to when I was fifteen. It was during the summer. School was out. I needed a summer job so I spoke to my father about it. He was quite pleased that I, unlike, my friends and other young people my age, wanted to work instead of loafing around. “Son, how would you feel about working in our office in Lagos?”
“Lagos?” I thought he was going to find me something in London. It never occurred to me that I could work abroad. The idea appealed to me. “Sure, Father. I would like that very much.”
“Excellent. I will make the arrangements. I will take you down there and stay for a couple of weeks just to make sure you’re settled.”
“What about Mother? Do you think she would approve of me going all the way to Lagos?”
“Don’t worry about your mother. I will sort things out with her.”
I was right about Mother. She objected vehemently to my going although Father insisted that it would be a good experience for me and that I would be well looked after. “But, he’s just a boy,” she exclaimed.
“He needs to grow up, Madeline. And you well know that he’s mature for his age. He has outgrown his friends and he’s always been very responsible. I’m sure that he will be fine. Now, stop acting as if he’s going away to war. We can visit him, if you like.”
My father had the last say in the matter. The night before we were to leave, my mother came to my room and she hugged me. “Oh, Grayson, I’m going to miss you so much.”
I smiled. “I’ll miss you very much too, Mother but I won’t be gone for long–only for a few months. The time will go by quickly and before you know it, I’ll be back home again.”
That seemed to calm her somewhat. Dabbing her eyes, she said, “Your father said the people you’re staying with is a very nice English family. He’s a minister of something or the other and she’s a professor. They are very educated and decent sort of people. They have a daughter who is living and working in Germany.”
She and I spoke for a while longer and then she left. The next day, she said a tearful goodbye to me and then, my father and I were on our way to the airport. I was so excited. I hardly slept a wink on the flight but I wasn’t tired when we finally arrived in Lagos. I was too wired. A uniformed driver was waiting for us at the airport and he escorted us to a waiting limo. My eyes were darting everywhere as we drove through the city, staring at the buildings and the people. It was like being in a world that was so different from mine. I loved it.
The Setons lived in a sprawling estate much like ours in Yorkshire. They were very nice people and they welcomed me as if I were one of their own. I knew that I was going to like staying there. Mrs. Seton rang for the maid who took me up to my room. As I followed her, I couldn’t help but notice that she was very beautiful. She looked to be in her mid to late twenties.
“What’s your name?” I asked her when we reached the room which was very large and it overlooked the kidney shaped swimming pool. I’m glad my father encouraged me to bring swimming trunks.
“I’m very pleased to meet you, Safina. I’m Grayson.”
“If you need anything, Mr. Rand, just pull this cord.”
“Please call me Grayson.”
“It’s not my place to address you by your first name. Excuse me.” She turned and quickly left the room.
Summer at the Setons was amazing. I felt at home and every day, I would swim laps in the pool and go for walks. I enjoyed working at the office. Everyone was great. They didn’t show me any special favors because I was the boss’s son. I texted Mother every other day and I bought a wood carved music box for her which Father took with him when he returned. At nights, I stayed in my room and fantasized about Safina. It frustrated me that she wouldn’t call me Grayson.
One afternoon when I had finished swimming my laps, she brought out a tall glass of lemonade for me. I was standing by the table, drying my skin and I noticed the way she looked at me. It thrilled me to know that she was attracted to me too. I was the only one of my friends who was still a virgin. I wanted my first time to be with Safina.
One evening when the Setons were at a charitable gala, I went to Safina’s room. She was startled to see me and asked me to leave. I didn’t say anything. Instead, I closed the door quietly. I removed my dressing-gown and stood there buck naked. Her eyes traveled slowly and deliberately over my body, inflaming me and then, we were all over each other, kissing wildly. We were like two animals in heat. The sex was out of this world. It completely blew my mind. We became lovers and sneaked into each other’s room when the Setons were either not there or asleep. We had to make sure that the rest of the staff didn’t suspect anything or they would rat on us.
“I could get fired if we’re caught,” Safina said one night before we had sex.
“We won’t get caught. We just have to continue being careful.”
Unfortunately, we did get caught and Safina was summarily terminated from her position and I was sent back in disgrace to England. My mother was livid. “How could the Setons have allowed this to happen? That maid seduced our son. She was an adult having relations with a minor. In America, she would have been charged and arrested for statutory rape. I hold the Setons responsible. How could they not have known what was happening under their own roof? We trusted them to take care of Grayson. If you had listened to me, Henry, instead of dismissing my concerns about him going off to Africa, none of this would have happened. I blame you too.”
I told my mother that it was I not Safina who instigated our affair but she refused to believe that. She insisted that I was the victim and Safina was the villianess. She made dead sure that no one knew about the affair in Lagos. It was to remain between the Setons and us. The Seton staff wouldn’t dare to breathe a word if they wanted to keep their jobs.
My mother found summer jobs for me because she was still upset with my father. I went to school, studied hard, graduated and went away to Oxford to study. I lived on campus and went home for the holidays.
During that time, I thought about Safina and wondered where she was and how she was doing. I had fallen in love with her. It was devastating for me when I had to leave Lagos without having any way to contact her. I wanted to return to Lagos and find her but I didn’t have any money. I had a trust fund but I couldn’t touch it until I was twenty-five. I started saving the money I earned from my summer jobs until I had enough to book a cheap flight to Lagos. As soon as I graduated from university, I flew down there and spent the entire time I was there inquiring about Safina.
I didn’t bother to go to the Setons because I knew that they wouldn’t help me. I went to the Cactus Restaurant where she used to work before becoming a domestic for the Setons. I went there and asked about her but the owner and the staff said that they hadn’t seen her since she quit her job there. I asked if she had any friends or family there in Lagos but they didn’t know. The owner mentioned that it was possible that she had returned to Freetown. My heart sank. I knew that Safina was a Sierra Leonean living and working in Nigeria but I had hoped that she would still be there in Lagos. Dejected, I thanked him and left. I returned to the hotel.
The following year, I went to Freetown and made more inquiries about Safina but, no luck. She hadn’t returned there and none of her family nor friends knew where she was. I left each of them my contact information in case they heard from her. I was desperate to find her.
Ten years have passed and I still hadn’t heard from Safina. I was so sure that I would have by now. Tonight, my parents are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. I’m getting married in six months. Yet, I would give all of this up in a heartbeat for Safina if she were to walk back into my life right now.