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It was the Secilles man! The devil is a liar from the pit of hell! Ewo o! See my enemies at work now. What if he exposed me in front of the men in the room? Chineke! First flight back to Port Harcourt na eim be dat na. I pulled on my mental Igbotic panic brake and stood with a rehearsed smile on my face briefly considering a retreat but deciding against it stubbornly. The hot creamy coffee with freshly baked croissants was threatening to defy gravity; sweat sprouting in my hairless armpit and hands clamping involuntarily on my briefcase as I stood suffering shortage of breath.
Clearly frozen as eight pair of eyes rested on me, my eyes traveled the length of the small meeting room with thick polished glass boardroom table sitting heavily in the middle surrounded by men in suits. My eyes stopping on their faces fleetingly before finding his again. There was a deep satisfied smugness on his face that had my wrist itching to wipe off in a smack. Taking cold steady breaths, I approached Mr. Fatasho, nodding professionally at the rest of the occupant in high powered suits, flashing a familiar smile at Mr Sule who almost grudgingly smiled back.
“Mr. Fatasho” I said in a surprised calm voice, stretching my hand for a shake as he stood up to take it, my eyes avoiding the man standing beside him.
“We meet again Miss Black” Mr. Fatasho said with a genuine smile.
“We did. I had no idea” I answered raising my brows in forced surprise, trying my best to keep the real source of my shock in check.
“Well, looks like you are going to be more than my personal assistant” he said and the room broke out in a harmonious low laugh vibrating through eight Adam’s apples.
“I suppose” I smiled, joining in.
“Welcome to Zenith Group Miss Black. I know you have met Mr. Sule Danladi. Mr. Haruna Atobi, Mr. Taku N’jaima, Mr. Okonkwo Jacob, Mr. Ayo Fadare, Mr. Christian Aduku and Mr. Vincent Fatasho” he introduced round the table and I smiled shaking across the table. ‘How cozy? Father and son. Just perfect’ punctuated thoughts running through my mind.
“How do you do Miss Black?” the man from Secilles said taking my hand firmly. I returned the shake in equal measure and he raised an eyebrow surprised at the strength and position of my forefinger touching his pulse. A type of power handshake I learnt from a book Sandra twisted my arm to read.
“I am glad to be here” I said giving him a polite smile.
“Let’s get to work” the old man said as he sat down, motioning me to take the empty seat beside him. Mr. Christian stood up in a robotic manner and made a PowerPoint presentation on companies under Group and the project ongoing on their new site. The brief clip ended with eyes resting on the old man who by now was perched like an eagle gauging his prey. He waited for Mr. Christian to sit down before continuing.
“Black, being the new Business head, I’d like to have your plans on the newly acquired companies in our portfolio. We need new products out there and we need them performing; Jacob is going to help with adverts and marketing strategy. Vincent continues with plans on the merger with First Homes on the real estate front. Njaima, see that the legal team gets the details ironed on the new software buy before we take a Gates-hit. Sule, settle Black in her office and let’s see on the new recruits? I’d hate to see our only lady stressed with incompetency” he said like a commander with a small smile directed at me. He was a firm boss now, not the kind old man on the plane. I braved a look at the man whose name was Vincent and found him scowling like he had lost a bid. Something wasn’t right and the pleased look on Mr. Fatasho’s face gave me an eerie feeling.
“I have a meeting with Tijani from the Assembly. That should be all” he said to the group before standing up and making an exit.
Soon the ‘you are welcome’ phrase flooded the emptying meeting room with Vincent fast on the heels of his father. I caught an angry gesture from Vincent as he stood outside the meeting room with transparent glass door pointing at the rest of us, evidently dissatisfied with the outcome of the meeting. Classic spoilt brat syndrome I concluded.
“Let’s get you to the east wing” it was Mr. Sule directing my eyes from the duo who had walked away after few seconds of what looked like a heated argument he wasn’t winning.
“Is there a problem?”? I asked as we left the room and headed to the far end of the floor where Mr. Fatasho and disgruntled son had just disappeared to. The elevator opened just as we reached it and the man from Secilles towered above us, glowering at me a minute longer than necessary. I stood, giving back as much look as I got.
“Miss Black?” it was Mr. Sule already in the elevator.
“Well, see you around” I played, stepping into the waiting elevator with my briefcase.
“See you around” he answered forcefully and turned to watch as the door closed. We rode up one more floor.
The floor was devoid of activities unlike the west wing. With all glass walls, a male receptionist was seated at the center of the large open space like a control operative at a tower with an extensive work desk with connecting monitors and crawling wires. He was clearly a nerd with tiny glasses perching on his long Fulani nose.
“This is Idris” Mr. Sule was saying as we headed to the thick double leaf mahogany door that I was sure led to my office.
“Good morning Ma, Sir” he greeted, standing up awkwardly.
“Good morning Idris” I replied enjoying his shy stance.
“You are welcome Ma” he said timidly, his long lashes fanning his nervous eyes and impeccable dressed self as he looked at his shoes.
“Thank you Idris”.
The door opened to a rich royal blue interior in contrast with stark white fittings and glass walls overlooking the busy city and traffic jam several floors below. Temporarily overwhelmed, I took in the sight as I walked, touching the fabricated large expanse of desk and state of the art electronics. Mr. Sule produced a remote control to drop a wall over the sight and walked to an inner door. I followed to the private quarters and noticed it was a live-in home with a big bedroom, mini-kitchen and bathroom. He seemed to be reading my thoughts.
“You may want to move in some clothing and food here. Mr. Fatasho is a driver and hates work left undone. Better to be at the office taking a vacation than actually working at home” he said with a huff, hoping I’d join in on the private joke. Few seconds later, I played a delayed giggled. I thrived on work and was purely ecstatic at having a home in the office.
“This is lovely” I said as we came back out and he took a seat in front of the desk right after I sat on the comfortable executive swivel armchair.
“You just got Vincent’s position, why he wasn’t told earlier? I have no idea. I suppose he is not so happy at the moment. It would do you well to avoid him and plaster the rest of your genius brain in blue papers for the boss; he likes value for his money you know. Now, I have to go take vacation in my little office before starting another round of picking your graduate workers” he said standing up heavily and walking out without a backward glance.
“Thank you Mr. Sule” I called after his departing bulky figure.
“Danladi” he corrected and closed the door behind him. I was finally alone.
I relaxed visibly, taking deep breaths. The position was way above my pay grade but here I was at 32 and head of Business Development for Zenith Group. Who would have thought? Standing up, I took a walk around the office, touching surfaces, taking in the feel of the furniture and opening the stocked refrigerator. The mini 5-seater table facing the projector stand at an approximate distance of ten meters from my desk looked like a private presentation setting. I made a mental note to get acquitted with team leads and staff directly responsible for smooth running of the office tomorrow. Today was to make sure I did not exhibit the cluelessness-syndrome at the meet tomorrow.
Raising the wall curtain to stare at the sight before me, I felt a mix of emotions – trepidation, a surge of confidence and what felt like empty happiness. I was grateful but reservedly so.
What if I couldn’t deliver? What if I failed? What if …… a knock interrupting my thoughts.
“I am sorry to bother you Ma but Mr. Fatasho is here to see you” Idris was saying with his lean body almost inside my office and legs outside.
“Sure” I said dropping the remote control and rubbing my hands on my suit as he walked in and closed the door firmly, turning the door knob. If he wanted war, I was going to give him the holocaust.
“We can start by you unlocking my door Mr. Vincent” I stated taking my seat calmly. He stood, taken aback.
“I see you have the sharp mouth as I fondly recall” he retorted, coming to stand in front my desk.
“and unrepentant too” he continued under his breath but I caught it.
“I would rather we start on a more friendly note seeing that we are now on the same team” I said opening my briefcase and taking out my personal laptop.
“We are not on the same team and I would be friendlier if you didn’t worm your way into my office” there he was out with it. Insinuating I wasn’t qualified. A wicked grin spreading my face, he had triggered the shotgun.
“I must apologize for the Passover Pharaoh but it would seem that your father thought me more qualified and perhaps, emotionally ready for the job” I gave back, meeting his glaring eyes. He was miffed and containing the irritation under his impressive cut of a suit.
“Oh! You would think so but no cupcake. You my dear will not last a fortnight and you had better not get comfortable. This is not over” he said heatedly and walked out of the office.
I shook my head in a slow laugh. He had no idea who he was dealing with. I didn’t do well with threats. If anything, they only spurred me to surge higher and for this cause, I was ready to go just a notch higher.
The line was drawn.
The effrontery, sitting in my office and giving me the mouth about being more ready for a job I had practically waited for since Jaja’s declaration to go to Pastoral college. At last I was going to have some input in the old man’s company, make him proud of me for once but no, he had to go bring a sisi, a sexy tease to torment me. This was definitely not over.
Pacing in my office with unbuttoned shirt, I knew Dad’s decision was final and the only way up to that office was getting her out or making sure she didn’t go anywhere with the staff. The thought hitting like a punch below the belt. Certainly, there was a better way to teach her a little humility lesson. A smile breaking out on my face as a thought formed.
I called the agent.
The wait at the airport was painfully annoying. A 7:15am flight had been delayed till 4:45pm and I boarded the flight with a face so squeezed my pimples came flying out on their accord. Okay, that was an exaggeration but it pained me to have to get to Abuja this late and have Debbie come pick me up.
Debbie, my hero. She was really the next best thing to my messiah…..the memories of past life washing over me as I stood outside of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International airport.
“Leave! Get out!! Ashewo…. Man snatcher….shior! Na God go punish you, Ekwęsun” the names came pouring in like rain and hard slaps like thunder striking my face and head. Tears blinding my eyes, I struggled to get away from the trio attacking me after a terrible night.
“I did not do anything! He raped me, they raped me” but their shouts and beatings droned my voice. My flesh hot, my eyes swollen and my parts bleeding but the girls were more interested in killing me. Yes, I worked my body for sustenance. Like the son of the carpenter, I was the daughter of the village prostitute and I grew up knowing that I was going to take over from her someday.
The day came at the age of fifteen. It was painful but only for a while. The tubers of yam were enough to last a week and soon, I was going out to getting food supplies and money for clothes. It was simple, a money-for-hand, back-for-ground arrangement.
And then the day my mother’s favorite customer came to the house in search of mother. Mother had gone to the market and he wouldn’t wait. With his wallet filled with notes, I had taken to do mother’s bid to get the money for mother with his prompting. And it was in that position that mother had found us. Elder Ikana plowing like the farmer he was. The next hours had me kicked out of the only hut I had known and asked never to return. The laughs, the mockery, the fear. I walked aimlessly only but with a wrapper filled with my clothes and monies earned from dirty handiwork I now hated. I moved but I was lost.
The journey to Lagos, blurry. I couldn’t remember entering the car but only came to myself once I came down from the bus and was pushed around by the sea of bodies flowing around me.
“Plise wia I dey?” I had asked a uniformed male in white crested shirt, green khaki trousers and abnormally large orange boots with thick black heels.
“This is Oshodi” he replied with a funny look on his face as he studied me and I looked away ashamed of his stare. I walked away, turning back to see him staring at me.
For days I roamed the ever busy streets, lost in my thoughts. Ashamed of what I had become and wondering if I would ever see my mother again. She had cried. I had too. But tears were not enough to mend broken hearts. After weeks of roaming the dangerous streets, I was on the lookout for a roof and had stumbled upon Mama Kimbe’s joint. I begged for work as a dish washer, not long after I was serving as a waitress. The hands started landing on my small rounded backside, soon the fondling moved to my chest and barely a week later I was on my back, doing what I knew best.
I was home.
The blare of horn brought smiles back to my fallen countenance as I saw Debbie stepping out of the black Toyota Camry in a hurry.
“I am so sorry” she apologized, taking me in a hug. I squeezed back. Grateful that she was here.
“Finally” I said as we untangled and she helped with my shoe box.
“Abi o. Since morning fa! This airlines sef. We no go dey use dem again” she said as a man opened the rear door and walked towards us.
“Good evening Sandra, I am Vincent” he said taking my hand delicately to his lips. My heart stopped beating, eye fluttering. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t be.
“Vincent” I said slowly, air escaping my lungs as I held on to the hand of the man who was wearing the abnormal orange boots.
It was my Oshodi man.
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