It was the last day of the induction training at one of the prestigious Financial Institutions and an excursion had been fixed. It was to be a surprise. Hopefully, we should be going to the office of the Central Bank.
Cladded in a two-piece navy blue suit with a white frilly shirt and turquoise blue scarf designed in the logo of the financial Institution. A Gucci bag and a nameless pure leather stiletto shoe my sister had bought from Paris, the year before. Nameless- because it’s not any of the known designer brands you are familiar. A tiny white pearl earring on my ears with a Rolex watch I technically borrowed from my Mom, her 50th birthday gift from my Dad. I use the word technically borrowed because I took it without her express permission and that cannot be classified as stealing I hope. I am no thief, honest, truthful and transparent.
My kinky African hair perfectly combed and oiled with Adi Agbon – coconut oil I bought from Iya Risikat down the road. I love to think that in her local extraction she has failed to add chemicals and any other additives used in the ones at the Superstores. Now we all know the noise on coconut oil for skin and hair care. Be sure I have been using it for decades thanks to my sister and her numerous beauty regiment.
Taking a last look at the mirror, tells me I am armed for the day. Off I go to wait for BJ at my Estate gate. BJ is a senior colleague at work who lives on my street. Ever since I saw him one weekend around my area. I was not shy the next Monday to ask if I could join him to the office and back. A good idea because I got to save on transport fare, reduce the number of times I get late to work due to a broken down bus and other associated mishaps with going on a bus. Like the day, I was coming down from the bus and got my jacket torn as it got hooked on the door or other days when my suit is all wrinkled and I am looking scattered before getting to work resulting in an extra thirty minutes in the ladies doing repair work to hair, makeup and clothes. Most days the buses could be so hot that I am practically soaked with sweat before the day’s work began adding to my cost on deodorant and perfumes.
I arrived at the training center, which is a huge white building in the shape of a dome, the front is all glass and I love the effect it has on the inside sending in a light that brightens not only the room but your spirit. The reception unit is made with dark mahogany in the form of a live fallen oak tree but designed into a table. I place my staff Identity card on the sensor unit on the wall beside the hall entrance.The door opens and the first person I see is Peju Phillips.
She is quick to tell me our excursion is to Kirikiri Maximum Security Prisons. You mean the whole trouble I went through to get ready was for the Prisons! I’m scowling and harrumphing in disgust. My friend Peju, is having fun at my expense.
“Lana, who knows you might snag a husband there”. I am looking at her like she’s gone bonkers. “This one wey you dress like say na Aso Rock you dey go, you for tone down small now”, she changes to pidgin English.
“The way you dress is the way you will be addressed. Looking good is good business”. I retorted back.
“You sure are looking good today for KIRIKIRI.” She said laughing and holding her sides. I eyed her with the death sentence look.
“They’re calling us to go into the bus, MISS KIRIKIRI – you have won the pageant for the day”. Peju whispered into my ears as she walked away laughing.
I am not one to go about looks but I was no fool not to realise that God had extra favoured me in that department. However, I might be a sight for sore eyes but Peju Phillips would hold a room full of a thousand people to a standstill. I could not light a candle beside her but she was always ahhing and oohing how I looked and dressed. What girl won’t love a girlfriend like that? For whatever reason she meant me today and the earlier I gathered my act together and shrug her comments off, the faster she would lose interest and look for someone else’s life to make miserable.
We filed into to the air-conditioned bus which pulled out of the training center and headed to the Mainland. It was a smooth uneventful ride with the usual traffic. I enjoyed the banter going on with other colleagues. I am seated beside the class clown who has just shared a joke that sent us laughing hysterically. There was never a dull moment with my set when we were not taking lectures or going over our study notes for the continuous test being meted during the eight weeks course, we were catching our fun to the fullest. I am not the proverbial clown but do have a lot as friends who I adore unabashedly. I do love a good laugh, who doesn’t.
I think that’s why we are the most resilient people on earth. How we are able to see a joke even in our pain, see hope when all looks hopeless. We believe “e go better”. The thought to commit suicide does not come close. Unfortunately, it is that same resilience we have, that is also applied when a public officer who has failed to perform refuses to resign. “Resign ke?” Nope, we will stay put and address the issue.
The journey was over before I felt it began. We arrived at the KIRIKIRI Prisons. I had never been there prior to this day. I know it is a notorious prison and where Fela Anikulapo – Kuti, the late Nigerian Afrobeat musician and human right activist was incinerated at a time.
We were greeted by one of the prisons staffs who introduced himself as our guide. I wished I had not taken the pains to dress up for this outing. I remove the borrowed Rolex and slipped it into a small compartment in my handbag. No way would I risk that getting lost while on this tour. “You would not be going in with your handbags, phones or any other instruments please leave them behind. You would also be searched. It’s the procedure”. Our guide went on to inform us.
We went through their cave like sleeping quarters which required you to bend to go in. The walls were well marked and dirty. The beds were iron double bunk beds with several mattresses stacked on the top and lower bunk. The floor had a telltale of once being concrete but now sandy. Nevertheless, I was impressed on the neatness of the rooms were neat amidst the dirt and oh the stench! Although, this might have been due to our visit.
Then we were then taken to another room, a classroom with desks and benches serving as chairs. There were about four students on each desk with scanty notebooks that had about five sheets. A teacher whose English was impeccable stood at the front of the class beside a blackboard with some mathematics sums on it.
It was surprising to know he was also a prisoner. Some of my colleagues engaged him and we found out he was knowledgeable and current. What neither of us asked, was why he was there.
Our guide informed us that people from all works of life were here in that prison. He boasted that the smartest brains were here. I do not know how he came to that conclusion but it was depressing.
I was intrigued by the look of the prisoners, they all had this black soot complexion. My first question as I wondered aloud. The guide did not seem to give a satisfactory answer but I came to the conclusion that taking a bath was a luxury here. Oh! how we take for granted, simple soap and water.The excursion came to an end after about an hour of moving around the prison facility I was the first to be out, glad to inhale fresh air. Hmm! another luxury I took for granted.
As a parting note, our guide told us that as young people starting our career, we should see ourselves as wealth custodians and the wealth a working tool. The day we began to see that wealth in our custody as something we could use or take out from for ourselves, that we would be taking our first step back there not for an excursion but behind bars.
For weeks, I had nightmares from this encounter waking up soaked in sweat. Perhaps in another country I would have opted for a shrink and sued my employer millions of dollars for psychological trauma but since I was a Naija babe, a passionate God lover who goes to church and knows her identity in Christ Jesus. I had to use prayers and deal with it. Best to say I got over it after six months.
So why the choice to work here? At age 15, I knew I wanted work in the Financial Industry. I had this very nice neighbor who happened to be the only person I know in the industry at that time. Growing up, I was surrounded by Teachers, Doctors, Nurses, and Professors, very noble and prestigious professions but I guess I was looking for something different out of the norm and status quo. I remember my Father saying it’s Doctor for Sciences and Lawyer for Arts. Like every other teenager who feels his or her ideas are the best. I told him that was what I wanted to do and my mind was made up. He made sure I studied sciences with further mathematics, I made sure I took the only social science subject allowed in pure science class.
Getting this job was a dream come true. The neighbor who inspired this profession tried talking me out of it when she learnt I had been offered this job.She said, “The Financial institutions are the highest employer of labour but that the stress on the job is on red alert. Young men and women dropping dead from heart attack, the impact on the children where both parents work in similar institutions. The risk on the job although is as high as its returns but it might not be worth it in the long run.
I smiled, “Auntie, don’t worry this is what I want to do”. What I never told her was she was the one who inspired this career choice. And as far as I could see she had done well, with her kids, husband and family life. So I could do the same and do better.
This is the 21st century, women must work and find a balance. It is the challenge of our times. We can’t go back to the 17th century we must and would find a way around it and make it work. Either you work as an employee, employer, entrepreneur or for charity. You need to find something to do and stay relevant.
Needless to say, I chose this. The best thing any of us can do for ourselves is to remember we will only live once. To be honest with ourselves and chart our own career or life mission playing to our strength. Take risks if we can. For those who have strength purpose and stamina to carry on a certain type of career, do so shining. To others who clearly realise that this might be a wrong choice, seek other alternatives. Whatever the choice is as a woman you have to be doing something. It’s simply just us being who we are – women.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental.
Omo washe omo rishe – You seek work and you found it.