The distance to Chief Idowu’s office from ours should have been short but ended up being long because of the crawling traffic. We could have walked but it was against the organisation’s policy to go out on calls without the provided cars.
Lana had this far away look. I stare at her thoughtfully. My tongue ready to start its usual sprint race but I decided otherwise and left her to her thoughts. She would tell what was on her mind when ready.
I knew her break up with Bode had affected her more than she let out. I had threatened hell and brimstone to make Bode pay for the way he had treated her. I remember how ballistic I had gone when she mentioned casually that Bode and she were no longer together. But I was dumbstruck when she said me it was her who had called it off and was not ready to give any explanation. We kept going back and forth as I wanted to hear the whole story to help me understand her reasons, but no, Lana would not divulge any details claiming it was not worth recounting. I was more confused than ever. I asked her if she had two timed Bode. That was a ridiculous thought but the secrecy surrounding the story left me thinking crazy things!
Lana smiled and patted my shoulder that day without any disappointment. “Peju I wish I could tell you that was it but sorry, there is no story to tell. Just know that Bode is a much better person than your friend here.”
Three years after, I still was not previewed to the full story and had long given up. The last time I brought it up, she jokingly said she would spill the story for my itchy ears when we both turned Fifty years.There was no point if Lana said something she kept to her word. It was a good trait in a friend but when you were at the receiving end. It was no longer admirable.
My friend, Lana, was one of the few beautiful girls left on the earth but what drew you most to her was how oblivious she was to it. She was completely unaware of her looks and the effect it had on people. She could put on a sack of potatoes and would have guys ogling and ladies ahhing and oohing. That was her. She was the most genuine and friendly person I had come across and that’s quite a number in my short stay on earth. Pretty faces with no substance and when they speak you get a glimpse of their real personality and all their beauty fades right before your eyes.
A girl’s true best friend. What you see is what you get with her. She never saw the bad in people.
She only saw bad moments and responses.
I smile as I recall the first day I met her. It was at the National Youth Service Orientation Camp, Lagos. She was ahead of me in the queue to pick up our kit. It was her gorgeous well-manicured nails, painted and designed in three colours that drew my attention. I was curious and so I tapped her to say lovely nails and I won’t forget that smile. She had a smile ready for a stranger.
“Lovely nails you got there,” I said.
“Thanks, hun,” she looked at it and laughed.
“My cousin’s dream is to have a nail outfit when she finishes school and as many people who offer to be guinea pigs to try out her crazy ideas with a promise for a lifetime membership of free service. I might not be interested but I don’t want to loose out when her place becomes the mecca of nails for the whole world. But I think my fear of her wrath is the real reason.”
She said lowering her voice in comradeship, “don’t tell her.”
I laughed.”I won’t but do you think she would do mine?
“It’s just for you to ask and she is down with her ammunition of nail paints and instruments.”
We got talking like two long lost friends and the rather long frustrating queue became a delight.
Kit collected, we went to the next line to get our meal ticket and then the next line for our rooms. Everything here seemed to be about queues. There were incidences we found ourselves in the wrong line after being on it for hours or having others mostly females like us who thought they were smarter and would join at the front with a miserable, “please excuse me.” On one of the occasions, the girls were close to boxing themselves. The weather was not helpful as the sun shone it brightest and emitted the most fierce-some of its heat mercilessly on us.
The hostel was a large hall with thirty bunk beds to accommodate sixty of us. It was chaotic. I saw Lana did a double take when she got into the room. She’d been turning her cute nose since we got into the block but did not say a word.I had hoped I that our room would be a contrast to the dirt and disarray we saw outside but I guess the situation was bleak and hopeless.Unfortunately, inside our block was no different
We found a vacant bunk at the end of the hall. I offered her first choice. She just stared and shrugged.” You can have any I am not particular.”
I took the up bunk. I hated strangers staying on my bed so being up was discouraging enough for anyone wanting to venture onto my bed.
Putting my bags down, I started sorting my things into the wardrobe. Lana was still standing looking lost.
It was then I noticed she did not have a box or bag so I asked,”where are your things?”
“Not here.” A short answer for someone who had been chatty all morning.
“Do you want me to lay your bed? I have an extra bed set so no one takes your bed.”
“Sure that would be kind,” she said as she smiled her winning smile showing her dimples on the left cheek.
We were done and left for lunch at the cafeteria. Unfortunately, we met another long queue.
“Perhaps we should try the food vendors. There should be less crowd if we are paying”, she said to me but the lady behind me informed us that she had just left there and it was crazy.
Finally, we got to the front of the queue and it was Eba and Egusi soup left. I was too hungry to care. It was not my first choice but choices here seemed to be quite limited. It was survival.
We both took the miserable looking meal and found two vacant seats to eat.
I ate mine. Surprisingly, I finished rather quickly and was left ogling at Lana’s own which I would not have minded if she offered considering how she was picking at hers. My last meal had been in the morning and with all the plethora of queues we had been subjected to, there was no time to look for something else to eat.
After the meal, we left for the hostel but Lana was still without her belongings. I asked her where it was so I could help. It was then she told me sadly she was not staying.
I felt like a fool making the bed for her and asking her to choose where to stay when all along she knew she was not staying.
“ I had plans to sleep in today and leave for my house tomorrow morning to bring my things but she shrugged threw her hands about and said, ” I can’t.”
I knew what she meant. I would have opted for out if I had the option too.
“I will be back tomorrow morning. I will commute from home for the three weeks we are here.”
“Wow! Okay,” I said not to happy.
Out of the blues, she says to me.”Ditch here, come and stay at my place. The house is big and my parents won’t mind. You’ll have a room of your own.
I did not readily jump at the offer. I had just met her at camp. How was I sure that I would be in safe hands. Not with all the gory stories you heard about Lagos. I came from a quiet nothing – happening town in the middle belt of the country. And I was ready to catch all the fun and excitement I had heard went on during the camp. I did not come this far to be a passerby. I must be involved.
“I‘ll think about it,” I said. Although, I knew I would do no such thing.
The three weeks of camp was absolute fun. Lana was funny, straightforward and down to earth. I visited her house one of the weekends and many other weekends during the service year.
Lana was a people person but did not do well dealing with a crowd at close quarters. Hence, the issue of staying on during camp. I recall thinking that she must be one of those spoilt brats born with a silver spoon. However, she was none of that.
Lana was still in dream land whereas I was out of my reverie, snapping my fingers in front of her face with an attitude I say to her, “You are in a far away land. A penny for your thoughts.”
She blinks and stares lost. Then smiles that her trademark smile which spreads across her face lighting the eyes and making you wish you could place the earth in her palms or just give her whatever requests she made.
“Not in a far away land, Peju it was a never – ever land. But remind me to let you know if it ever comes true.”
The car stops and we arrive at Chief Idowu’soffice.
“Girlfriend,” as I love to call her. “We are here, let the Midas touch begin.”
We both step out from the car looking like models stepping out of a Vogue magazine. I breathe in and out. There should not be anything less that the figure I had given my manager.Lana reaches out to hold my hand in a bid to reassure me as we walked into the reception area of the gigantic office complex of Ideal Oil and Gas.
The visit to the company was our first.Our previous meetings had been more on the phone and one occasion at the Ikoyi Club but like most of the buildings in this area, you could almost be sure you were in Europe or America. The furnishing and finishing were top notch.
As we walked to the reception, you could hear the click of our Louboutin shoes on the marble floor. The floor was a picture of rock and stones under crystal clear water. At first, I felt like I was going to step into the water but it was just a picture. I had to take my eyes away to walk on it.
“First time?” The reception asked as she smiled.
“It always has that effect on people but they get used to it.”
“Chief Idowu is expecting us for 9 am,” I informed her.
“Yes, he has asked for you to come up immediately.”
“Thank you,” we both said simultaneously and got into the lift to the 16th floor.
In the lift, we were lucky to be alone.
“Gosh,” Lana exclaimed as she beats her forehead.
“I must have looked like a complete idiot over that flooring. I was so afraid to walk like I was stepping into a rocky place with stones and the water will splash on my shoes.”
I smiled, so I was not the only one and if you had watched Lana walk on that floor no one would believe she was going through that. Looks could be deceptive.
I laughed. “But you walked like you did not see anything there.”
“Peju, in this Lagos, you must represent o! as I was panicking on the inside, my head was held high even if I had to fall on the floor, I must do it with dignity.
“Hmmm, you Lagos people, Eko for show.”
“Stop saying we Lagos people. You have been here since service year and you don’t look like anyone leaving this Lagos so you are one too.” she reprimanded me.
“It should not be that hard learning from you,” I muttered sarcastically.
“I heard that,” she said rolling her eyes.
The lift opened and we stepped into Chief Idowu’s lobby, to be ushered in by his Secretary.
We both curtseyed in the traditional Yoruba way to greet Chief. We might be in a formal setting but seeing those grey hairs over his head did us in. It must have been a reflex action which played to our advantage. We later found out that singular act endeared us to Chief Idowu.
We left his office with more than we anticipated; the N500 million and Lana wickedly got N1 billion call deposit from another of Chief’s subsidiary. It was the heavens smiling on us. She just asked chief if he had any free funds for seven days that he could earn interest on and get his funds when he needed it.
Chief said they were working on purchasing a shipping vessel but the deal did not go through and they had to start bargaining with other company from the scratch meanwhile they had already secured the funds from his bankers.
While we were at his office, we had behaved ourselves like getting that amount of funds was an everyday occurrence.
The moment we stepped back into the lift and alone. We were jumping and dancing like crazy. We returned to our dignified selves as soon as the door opened.
I signed out at the reception and had more chit chat with the receptionist. We probably would be in and out of this building in the coming days.
As soon at we hit the floor again, I did the Lagos girl catwalk without looking at the down, of course, no amount of talk from Lana can get that confidence pose looking at those floors. I’ll have to ask Chief the story behind it. That was the first of its kind I was seeing.
In the car, we were like two crazy girls. We screamed, hugged ourselves screamed again and started fanning ourselves in the cold car with our hands.
Back at the office, I walked in feeling two feet taller. I was bursting with excitement while Lana had this calm exterior like nothing had happened.
“How do you do it?” I hissed.
“Do what?” She asked unaware of what I meant.
“Behave like nothing affects you. I can barely contain myself with excitement and there you are like the ice princess looking so fresh and calm through it all.”
Lana smiled and shook her head.
“If only you knew, I wish I could be like you all emotion and scattered. I have my moments like in the lift and the car but out here my dear, I can’t let loose not because I don’t want to but I just don’t know how.”
Here, I was doing everything within me not to run off to the Managers office and drop the cheque for him to see, I wanted to see the look on his face. Lana and I have just made it for him this week. The regional managers weekly meeting was his time to shine. He had to be more than grateful to us.
On entering his office, he had this frown on his face as he was looking at something on his screen. He did not lift his head even though he knew someone had come into his office.
“So?” he said without even looking at us which was more of a question than a statement.
“Sir, we were not able to get the amount I stated earlier but he gave us this,” I say as I hand the cheques over to him.
He looked at us with that scowl on his face taking the two cheques from me.
In one happy second, there was this huge smile on his face as he read the figure. It was, in fact, the first time I saw him smile. I held my breath because I had never thought that man could be that human. It was surprising how a smile can transform a face. He was human after all and not a monster.
My Manager stood up and stretched his hands to give us a handshake.
“This is a great job.”
“Well done ladies.”
“Please take the cheques and get them booked in.”
As we turned to leave, he called out.
“Lana, let’s go over your report.”
I did not know when I let out a groan that I had to change quickly to a cough
“ Is there a problem?” he asked his scowl back in place.
“No, sir I had something stuck in my throat, I lied.”
I left the office not without looking at Lana and offering her my sympathy with my eyes.
The rest of her morning till midday would be spent doing mundane things for him.
” I am so disappointed and feel like a burst balloon.”
Well, Lana and I owe it to celebrate tonight after work.
If he didn’t celebrate us, we would celebrate ourselves.