It’s been three months since the profitability meeting weekend. Work has been on fast pace like a speed train. My ill position in the manager’s eyes had fallen to someone else. I found myself on one or more occasions giving the new guy a pep talk from my experience.
Isn’t it ironic that what I resented so much was the needed training for my career advancement? It was both a sense of relief and loss at the same time. A relief I no longer spent those long hours digging for information or going over a report under the watchful and critical eyes of my manager but a loss because I miss the drive and challenge those times brought being someone who never liked to fail at a project.
Our Manager, who we all now lovingly call Drew, has removed the scowl from his face, and replaced with a now sickening constant smile plastered on his face like someone gone for cosmetic surgery. To be quite candid, I do love the smile but can someone have a smile on their face all the time? I shudder when I think, his might have been cosmetic surgery gone wrong. In our brainstorming session, he had insisted we conform to management’s decision on first name basis. It had been awkward for a while, but we all got used to it with little slips here and then.
In addition to the smile are a charm and fabulous sense of humour that has resulted in a stiff completion for his attention among the ladies at the office.
The spike in their dress sense at work rivals any fashion show in Paris, New York, London or Milan and the assault of perfumes on your nostril could leave you gasping for breath. The rate he had to attend to mundane issues under the guise of wanting to be around him was hilarious. If he requested help from staff, he had three or four ladies volunteering. I felt so sorry for him because you could see the bewildered look on his face to note that he was clueless. It was like watching one of those comedy sitcoms. But I would not trade this new guy for the old one.
Peju and I have been on different projects. We worked in the same office but did not have five minutes to say hello. We caught up sometimes during lunch hour and weekends when we were not working.
Incredible but true we were working weekends. We had no life but refused to complain, after all, that was what we signed for on our contract of employment letter. It was stated,”to work some weekends if need be,” only we were working all weekends for the past six weeks.
Our accounts with Chief Idowu and Ideal Oil and Gas Limited had grown by leaps and bounds. We were adding new accounts consistently from networking with the clients and suppliers used by his business. With the help of Phillip Idowu, Chief’s son and the links he offered my portfolio grew geometric exponentially.
He was currently out of the country overseeing a business interest of the company in Dubai. I met him once and due to his tight schedule and frequent trips we ran our meetings on the phone, phone calls, conference calling and sometimes skype. He had given me all his numbers both in and outside the country to reach him whenever. Peju focused on Chief Idowu while I focused on Ideal Oil and Gas.
Peju found me at the canteen during lunch. She had this look of excitement on her face as she handed me an invitation card.
“Get ready to boogie. It’s Chief Idowu’s wife’s 50th birthday party, and this is our invitation,” she pointed to the card in my hands as I opened to read.
For someone who loves being by herself, I never minded parties. I love the whole dressing and meeting people, the friendly banter, jokes and laughter and the opportunity for networking.
“I am in,” I responded still reading the card.
“It is two weeks from now, and the dress theme is the 1950s,” I groaned. My high point was never in searching for clothes. Find it and give it to me to wear was more like it. I was one of those ladies that hated shopping for clothes. I checked what I wanted on the internet, where to buy and ordered online. The reason why I had stashed of unused clothes in my wardrobe; two in every five ordered did not fit. However, moving from shop to shop neither appealed to me nor was it an option.The whole idea of trying several clothes to buy one was draining.
“Dress theme? Peju asked as she had apparently read my mind.
“Sorted! Done all that on the phone while coming here. Called my sister in London to help search for two 1950s vintage gown. Something affordable and classy,”
Peju’s sister is a fashion freak, who has shopped most of the clothes we both wore. We considered her our fashion consultant and offered to pay for her services despite her initial refusal. Through us and many more demands, she built a clientele and started her clothes retail store. She did understand our bodies and the look we desired. Having her sort out my clothing style and purchases was one of the best things that happened to me.
“I also called your cousin to book for our nails to be done on Friday after work and she referred a makeup artist who I called up and would be at my house on Saturday,” Peju said with a triumphant look in her eyes.
“You got all this figured out. You’re a girl’s best friend. I am beginning to sound like a broken record with, this cliche, but it is true.
“Whatever am I to do when prince charming comes calling? Shouldn’t I be the evil queen and use my magic wand to wave him out of our lives?” I asked wickedly.
My dear friend has been moaning over the last few weeks of her single state. Claiming most of her friends back home were all married.
“I never dreamt of being single at 24. At my age, I should have finished childbearing.”
“Were you hoping to get married at 16 or 18?” I asked snorting in disgust without realising it. My mother would have a fit at such unladylike display after her huge investment on etiquette and manners training at summer camps during my teenage years.
“I secretly hoped to have married at 18, finished having my kids at 24 and become a grandma at 40,”
“You’re joking right?” I asked bewildered.
“No, I am serious.” she said and I was forced to believe she meant it.
“We will have to find you a husband this month. Some potbellied old man with real money who already has three wives being the fourth would not too bad,” I said sarcastically. The only snag will be shipping you out of Lagos back to your northern region. The north part of the country was prevalent for giving out their girls in marriage at a very young age to men old enough to be their fathers.
Although some non-governmental organisations were actively fighting against this especially for those younger than eighteen, there was still much that needed to be done to eradicate the practice entirely.
Peju grew up in this kind of environment. Many times I forget that she is more from this part of the country than our south-west.
“ I am not that desperate when I said 18, it was to someone in mid-twenties to mid-thirties ready for marriage, not some old man and please note that men from that region are not potbellied like the ones down here,” she defended passionately.
“I hear,” raising my hands in a sign of mock surrender and added, “I do think you are suffering from a case of lost identity,” I retorted drily.
“You’re sold to this your northern heritage.” I shook my head sadly.
“The south-west has lost its daughter to the north. The stake to redeem you is high and why do I think it’s futile?” I wailed melodramatically.
“Stop this your drama. It will break my father’s heart to hear you. Spending all his life in the north, he considered himself a proudly southwestern man and took pride to have brought us up with those values, but I guess the environmental factor is a strong influence. He could not say a word in that language to save his life, but all his children spoke the language fluently to the detriment of their mother tongue.
As if the world wanted to confirm further my fear, a client from this region walked in. Peju rattled away in the local dialect much to my chagrin.
It was my cue to take my leave and I did.
“See you,” I muttered and escaped.
They could be plotting my demise for all I knew. Now I think I am going little overboard with the recent crime books I have been feasting on. The last one had a plot where a guy planned the demise of his friend right in front of him because he neither spoke nor understood the language.
Two weeks flew, and the party was upon us. The dresses arrived in time. Mine was a black and white 1950s vintage polka dot A- line Halter swing dress while Peju was teal butterfly vintage dress. My cousin outdid herself with our nails designed in the same fabric design as our dresses.
Sheila has done well for herself. A dream was all she had back then. She pursued her nail dream and worked hard to be where she was today. Her nail studio was among the first three in the country with two offices in Lagos. One on the Island and another on the mainland.
Her clients were across the globe. She shuttled between Africa, Europe and America. She had just returned from a fashion show in Paris where her team were responsible for the all the nails of the models.
We were lucky to get booked in just two weeks. She had clients bookings as long as three months and some cases six months. Peju and I were on her life membership which afforded us the luxury of her services at such short notice.
“We are your brand ambassadors,” Peju declared as she requested for her complimentary cards.
Sheila was quick to hand her about twenty of the cards.
“I’ll take some from her,” I offered.
“How do you cope with your clientele?” I asked Sheila amused at the way she was quick to hand over the complimentary cards even when she had more clients than she could handle.
“I get by with proper planning, organisation and a great team. I also do invest a lot in training on the skills and customer service. My business thrives on repeated services so word of mouth referrals are key for us. One dissatisfied client can cause a loss of ten other customers. I have also offered some of my team partnership, so we all see it as our business. It’s not my success it is our success. I have about twenty staff on my team a huge clientele base, but I still have not reached my goal,” she said passionately.
“To be the nail mecca of the world,” I concluded for her.
“You’ll get there. You have done so much for yourself, and I can tell you are smiling to the bank. Talking of that, I doubt if you have an account with us. Let’s fix an appointment for next week if that would work for you?” I asked not one to take no for an answer.
“No, make it Friday, a fortnight from today. I’ll be in California the whole of next week. I am part of the team working on a Hollywood film.”
I heartily congratulated her stunned.
“Two weeks it is. We’ll discuss on what e- solution we can package for you that will help your banking needs,” I promised her.
“My present bank is trying,” she offered a vote of confidence. I noted a sense of loyalty and played not to discredit her bank not that I ever did that, but I had to be careful in my sales not to belittle her bank.
“I’m sure they are. However, our solutions aid businesses. We tailor e- applications to your needs. I am certain you would have had challenges especially those periods you are out of the country,” I doggedly remarked.
“Yeah, quite some challenges but we found a way to make do.”
“Not anymore Sheila, I am so sorry it never occurred to me. We should have done this earlier.”
We exchanged hugs, planned a girls outing when she got back and left for home. It was past 10 pm. I had called home as I was crashing at Peju’s place this weekend. All effort to make my parents see reason in me moving out had fallen on deaf ears.My mum would hear nothing of it. She practically brought the roof down when I first mentioned it. She argued there was no reason to rent a house when they were in the same city as I was. I discussed with my mum that girls younger than myself were living on their own and did well with it.
My mum insisted no daughter of hers would live alone. She said young ladies living on their own were prone to promiscuity and that it was from her house to my husband’s house. I had brought the topic up time and time again, but she stood her grounds. For the sake of peace, I stayed put hoping she would see reason and change her mind.
The traffic to and from work could be crazy and on several occasions I was forced to sleep at Peju place surprising she did not have issues with Peju and did not see her as promiscuous rather she felt Peju was the most sensible of all my friends.
Our makeup artist arrived and 4 pm. Saturday evening. I could barely recognise myself when I looked into the mirror. It was uproarious to watch me calling my name severally in a bid to convince myself I was still who I thought I was.
My everyday makeup routine was a liquid eyeliner on the top of my eyelid finished up with mascara for longer eyelashes, a neutral lipgloss and Mac liquid foundation that fitted my skin tone. Today I had been subjected to brow shaping, winged eyeliner, false lashes, contouring, highlighting and bronzing. With each application, it looked like I was gradually losing who I was. I thought of cleaning it up, but I wouldn’t dare, not all the trouble the makeup artist had gone through to achieve this look.
My dress was beautiful. I finished the look with a bright red platform peep-toe shoe, and red sequined clutch purse, the same shade of lipstick. Red was not my favourite colour but looked great on me tonight. I kept to my minimal jewellery style. White pearl ear studs with a silver wristwatch. I left my neck bare. There was no need for a necklace with the halter neck. Others might but I loved the simplicity of being bare.
I was blown away by Peju’s looks. Peju is beautiful but tonight she was a stunner. I could not have been more proud of my friend in her lovely teal butterfly vintage dress she matched with cream high heeled sandals and creamed gold sequined clutch purse. Peju was loud on her gold jewellery which did not look out of place on her; dangling gold earrings with white stones that looked like diamonds pieced with a matching necklace and bracelet.
She had her black hair extension in glorious curls that cascaded down her shoulder. Her big almond shaped eyes were now prominent with the black eyeliner and mascara used against her fair skin tone. A faint red blush was visible on her cheeks and finished with dark red on her lips.
I had long stopped insisting that Peju checked her family line for traces of Caucasian blood as she could be passed for a half-caste although she claimed she was purely African.
In her usual fashion, Peju was going on about how I looked and how bad it was a party most likely full of people in their fifties and sixties and sad, we probably would not see people our age there.
“We could stay at home?” I suggested mischievously.
“Not on your life?” she threatened.
“After all this,” She gestured at our false selves.
We waited for the makeup artist to get her things together, locked up and Peju drove to the venue.
It was quite unusual to find the hall almost filled up when we arrived at 6.55pm. Scanning the room, we located Chief Idowu and his wife standing in a corner with other people as we wove our way through the crowd to exchange pleasantries and give the celebrant our good wishes.
Mrs Idowu did not look a day older than thirty – eight. It was hard to believe she was fifty. I hope that at forty years, I would look half as good as she did today. She was tall, graceful and elegant in her appearance and manner. She had a soft-spoken voice with a faint trace of a British accent and a warm smile that was both in her eyes and on her lips. There was this aura of serenity around her. In an instant, I longed to be held in her embrace and heard this loud voice in my head. “This woman is at peace with herself and the world, and I wanted that.”
As I held her hand, a weird thing happened, there was this connection in our eyes like she could see my soul. She drew me into a warm hug and said: ” I would love to see you again.”
Deja Vu you call it, I did not care, but I knew I wanted to meet this woman again. I wanted what she had. It was not material it was something on the inside of her.
We found our way back and picked the first available table we saw.
It was party time, and I could already tell it was going to be more fun than I thought. These older people don’t want to be outdone by us the younger ones. They sure came prepared.
The women were turning up in incredible dresses, but I had to give it to the men, how do they stay so young and more good looking as they grew older without much effort like their counterparts- the women?
From makeup to botox and cosmetic surgery, girdles, dieting, slimming herbs, going to the gym, yoga and pilates. I hope I find out the men’s secret to youthfulness before getting to this age so I could use it.