The next day at the office, our Manager came in with the usual scowl on his face. The moment he walked in we all did the disappearing act and settled into our seats even though it was still half an hour to the start of work.
The whole atmosphere changed from one of lightness to that filled with tension and apprehension. I suppose we should all be used to that by now, but there is something you just can’t get used to especially when it’s against all that is the ideal. There is just something inside you that longs for the best. In order not be seen as the one without anything to do and be called to his office. We all opened our computers and started the day’s work furiously.
No sooner had he walked in, did the phone on my table ring. I had my guess. It was another bad day for me. I looked at Peju pleading with her to pick the phone as I scrambled away quickly to the ladies.
“Peju Phillips corporate sales.”
“Yes sir, she’s not at her desk right now.” I heard her say as I stood by the door listening.
I came back to my desk precisely at the start of work. Peju was quick to inform me that I was to call him.Hopefully, I would not have to report to his office.I prayed as I made the call.
“Lana please go through the reports I just sent to you. You’ll be making a presentation at the profitability management session this weekend. It’s holding at the Whispering Palms Resort Badagry. You might need to reschedule your appointments for Thursday and Friday this week. We will work out the finishing touches on Thursday and leave the office on Friday afternoon.
“Yes, sir. Yes, sir” I kept saying yes sir to all he said nodding my head like he could see me. I was dazed. My thoughts had travelled to several places where you’ll only find fear, worry and anxiety.
This opportunity was great for my career. The management staff will get to see me. But I was not ready. It was not the right time. I should not be going. Someone else should go. What if I make a mess of the whole thing. I was giving all the excuses why I should not be the one to go, selling myself short.
“I am going to the profitability management meeting with the manager,” I announced to Peju.
“Good for you, it is about time,” Peju replied.
“Why do you say that? What of if I make a mess? It is the whole region with about fifty other branches,” I asked with a tremor in my voice. I could sense a panic attack coming on me.
“Lana, when you make a presentation you carry everyone along. Your presentations are something we to look forward to in the office. You know what you’re saying and how to say it to get the desired result. It is an opportunity to celebrate the branch,” said Peju with a confidence I envied.
“I’ve never done this before. It’s different,” I further argued.
“It is you, Lana. You’ll do it well. I have never known you to fail at what you do,” Peju encouraged me.
I wish I had just a pinch of the faith she had in me.
I threw myself into studying all the reports and doing an additional study to every angle to tackle any unexpected questions. I was in and out of my manager’s office of my free will. At a time, I thought the man began to dread my call the way I did his. I could not afford to fail. It was not every day that a junior staff presented at such a meeting. But he must have seen something in me to take that risk, and I was not going to let him down.
I worked hard for the presentation and gave myself as much pep talk I could. Peju was a rock. With her, I felt I could do it, but on my bed at night, I fought with both ants and giant of fears.
By Friday, I was a nervous wreck. Going through the presentation with my manager, I could not believe how kind he was and not easily irritated at the minor mistakes I made.
“You can do this. It is not different from the presentations you have done at the branch. You have all the information in your head, all you need is confidence,” he said so convincingly that I began to believe it too.
Between Peju and my manager, I could not tell who was more supportive, but I was grateful for the pillar of strength they both offered.
The profitability management meeting ended up being my stepping stone to stardom. The country manager commended my presentation skills and admonished others to emulate and learn a thing or two from mine. I doubt if they would have been any of that If my branch profitability rate was less than the 120% we achieved that month.
Being in that meeting, I was almost sure my head had doubled in size and would need help getting out through the doors. Simply put I was elated. I was where I knew I wanted to be. I was coming into my career’s full circle. Thankful for the people who encouraged and did not allow me to give into my fear.
The gruelling weekend session finally came to an end Sunday afternoon. It was nothing compared to the hours of torture I had spent at my manager’s office. That experience made this weekend something like heaven for me.
Somewhere during the trip, not sure the precise moment but I noticed that my manager had forgotten to bring his scowl along. The trip and hours we spent at the session revealed another side of him. I noticed the way he greeted the other colleagues warm, firm handshake, confidence, smooth strides and how eloquent, distinct and knowledgeable he was at the meeting. I was proud of my boss. Everyone had a good word to say about him which left me wondering that perhaps there was a switch with someone else in between the office and here.
I could not recall a time I enjoyed a discussion this much and an exchange of ideas on stimulating issues. Politics, economics, science, technology and entertainment. He had facts and figures. He was not too proud and had no overdose of the male ego so he could gallantly lose out in a discussion and be cool about it. He was jovial and laughed easily, the kind of laughter that was music to your ears. No one would believe it at work when I tell them all this on Monday. There was not the usual grunt or curt words just two colleagues having a great time.
Even the times of silence were comfortable. I loved this kind of work relationship. Not being afraid to speak out and no one judging your ideas wrong or right. I wished we could carry this back to the office. Our performance rating will soar. There was nothing like letting people be comfortable in their skin. It unleashed creativity and boosted performance on the job. That was one thing I wanted to see on my team when I do become a manager.
I must have been lost in my thoughts because I felt a tap on my arms
“Where have you been? I have been calling your name,” he said with a worry edged on his face.
“You alright?” He asked looking more concerned.
“I am great sir,” I replied.
“My question is do you love the job.I’m not asking as your manager so an honest answer would do.”
“Yes,” I replied wondering why the question.
“How much on a scale of 1- 10?” he implored.
“10,” I responded without a doubt.
“Cool!” he exclaimed with raised eyebrows.
“You are the first who has told me that. Not many people do. They seem to find themselves into it by circumstance, not their first choice.”
“I always wanted to work in a bank right from when I was a teenager. I had an aunt who did, and I just fell in love with the whole idea. That is not to say that some days are not crazy, but every experience put together. I love it.”
“And you?” I asked all the fear gone as I found it easy to talk to him.
“I am okay with the job but can I let you on a secret? I am not a ten somewhere on a scale of eight. Early retirement calling,” he chuckled.
If I was astonished, I did not let it show. I was at a loss as to what he meant but did not feel he owed me any explanation.
“Any wedding bells soon?”
I was taking aback but answered.
“None. No wedding bells would be ringing for a while,” I answered as a matter of fact.
I could not read the look on his face there was something like disappointment, but it was gone so fast I could not be sure
“You shouldn’t make it too long. You know in our society the timing for women is different. There comes a season when the ship for wedding proposals set sail and whoever is left behind finds it difficult to get on any other ship,” he explained it so comically I laughed.
“I would not need to get on that ship. I don’t think it’s for me.”
Not to dwell too much on myself I threw his question back at him.
“What about you?”
“Which? wedding bells or biological clock?”
“Wedding bells,” I laughed.
“ Men do not have a biological clock or rather the ships just keeps sailing for them. A man of fifty will wake up one day and marry a girl of eighteen,” I explained using his words.
“No wedding bells yet. I am still searching for that special someone .”
“That should not be hard with half of the women out there falling at your feet,” I explained truthfully. The guy had all the boxes ticked right and going for him. All he needed to was ask.
“Does that include you?” He asked searching my face.
“No I belong to the other half, I blurted out without giving the question a thought. But dwelling later on it I think I should have been more diplomatic.
He burst out laughing that was more of a chuckle than a guffaw but sounded more like music making me conclude that this side of him was better than the one he brought to work and If I could do anything to keep it this way would be of benefit to the whole office.
“I can’t believe you are entirely different outside the office. At work you have got this scowl on your face always but here, you are nice, comfortable to be with jovial, and you laugh,” I said that bit like laughing was on the same level as climbing the Mount Kilimanjaro.
“Is it the scowl that earned me the name Buffalo?”
I almost convulsed in the car. I looked straight ahead and did not comment.
“Never judge a book by its cover Lana,” he said so quietly that I almost missed it.
The way he said my name did things to my stomach which I attributed to the edikang- ikong soup I had taken that afternoon just before leaving. This soup prepared with a generous quantity of pumpkin and water leaves is a famous delicacy among the Efik people from the South- south of Nigeria.
I could not wait for the ride to end. I’ve never been more glad to see my driveway as I was at that moment. Shame rested like a huge garment placed over my head.
I squeaked a thank you as I jumped out of the car.
He came down and helped take out my luggage from the booth of the car.
“You do not need to feel bad. I’ve heard worse names than the one you coined,” he said with a huge smile on his face. He did not look a bit offended, but that did not allay the guilt I felt.
The opportunity to give my apologies, but I could not do that. Apologising meant acknowledging what he said was true. The name fitted who he was at the office, not this new person in whose company I had spent the weekend.
I wanted to deny, but it was futile to do so. He was not assuming. He knew and how he did is still a mystery. It sounded good when Peju and I used that name, but right now, it felt juvenile and stupid of us to have indulged in such. I was not sure I could face him after today. The novelty in using the name died the moment he mentioned it.
“You were great out there. You did create a buzz too. You are now in the eyes of management. It won’t be long you are moved out to some other unit or role. When that happens, and you need any help feel free to call me. You know where to find me,” he tactfully changed the topic and was giving me a lifeline, but I was too ashamed to use it.
His last words registered in my subconscious. Those were Bode’s last words to me. What was that? Why was I thinking of Bode now? What was it about me that people were always telling me I know where to find them? I guess I am just tired. It has been a hectic weekend. The earlier I caught some rest against work tomorrow the better for me.
“Thank you for the ride sir,” I said again
“Call me Andrew, everyone calls me that.”
I nodded but I just could not. I was comfortable addressing him that way. I had heard him say that to others, but we all stuck with the “sir thing”.
It seemed out of place in the organisation to use first name basis although it was a recent advice by management not enforced especially with people in the workforce old enough to be your parents. The culture was gradually changing, but it still had a long way to go.
“See you at work tomorrow. Rest all you can. It’s a hectic week ahead with reports and meetings you can’t but attend. Welcome to Management,” he said giving me a military salute which earned him a smile.
He got into his car and drove off while I stood with my luggage by my feet and waved till the car was out of sight. I slowly walked into my house with a myriad of emotions. I was tired, feeling horrible and somewhere inside a good feeling I could not describe.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental.
Image used from Goggle.