I was literally sleeping on my feet as I stole a glance at Peju wondering how she was getting on so perfectly after the horrendous journey we encountered, with little or no sleep over the night and a dash home to bath, change and back at the office short of a minute late. I recall seeing her taking a quick cup of coffee before leaving the house. Maybe that is her secret.
Moving towards the tea room to settle for a cup of pure black coffee, no cream or sugar. I took the bitter liquid in gulps closing my eyes in a bid to get the drink successfully down my throat.
I had almost finished the cup of coffee when I heard someone come in.
“You have the word torture screaming from the look on your face,” said my boss Andrew.
“It either this or I’ll be useless today,” I replied.
“You could have taken the day off and resumed tomorrow,” he said.
“Did not think it was an option, I’ll survive,” I replied turning to wash the used mug and rolled my eyes like he would have approved.
We were all getting used to this his beautiful side gradually but the old him we knew was ingrained in our subconscious. In his draconian days, you dared not dream of taking a day off, it was never approved, sick leaves were documented with a Doctor’s report, and missed days reported to the Human resource with a memo in your file at the Branch.
“Did you enjoy your trip?” he asked. He seemed to want to linger here in the tea room.
“The trip was splendid. I must say and eat humble pie. All the places you mentioned were exquisite. I loved every minute of it except when we landed at the Murtala International Airport, Lagos. There was no light, everywhere was dark and hot except for the illumination coming from the use of rechargeable lanterns.
In this 21st Century. It was crazy, and to make the situation worse, the conveyor belts were not working so the luggage were handled manually. We spent close to 3 hours after landing at the airport.
“Welcome back home,” he said.
I know he was referring to the difference from Dubai to Lagos, but why did I feel it was more like welcome home my dear.
I shook my head I must be going nuts with Peju’s engagement.
He seemed to want to say something more but changed his mind.
“See you around,” he said leaving as I followed him out.
There was a shout of “Happy Birthday!” from the rest of the colleagues out there. I knew it was not my birthday yet, mine was some few days away and not sure whose it was.
Then it dawned on me. It was the boss’s. Andrew looked rather surprised. I guess he did not expect us to know. We had never bothered in the previous years. I wondered who found out and how we did not know on Friday before leaving work.
So the whole office sang the happy birthday song for him. Apparently, the unit in charge of birthdays and other celebrations provided him with a gift which was presented by Peju.
“You have been superb at hiding it all these years and this time around we found you out,” I commented liking the look of utter shock and astonishment on his face.
He thanked us not without noticing Peju’s engagement ring and offering his congratulations as the whole office gave theirs too. The smile on Peju’s face was priceless.
This whole weekend had revealed something I had never noted or refused to note about my friend. She was euphoric with her engagement which made me remember mine to Bode. I had refused to take a ring from him then. My reason was I did not want to brand myself, should the relationship fail. I wanted to be sure I knew what we were doing. I think right from the beginning I had held back from the relationship. I had no hope or belief that we would end up at the altar. It was a trial for me. To test the waters, if it would work but I guess in the end, it was as I had feared. I was not strong enough to want that relationship, it was not significant enough to make it work, the love Bode showered was not robust enough to keep us together because I had no love to give in return.
I did not know what it was to give yourself completely to another. I was too much of myself to let go. I wondered if all my thoughts made sense to me, but seeing Peju, I doubted I could love the way she did. There was nothing wrong with Bode and me. I was not able to love back the way he did and felt guilty. I did go back to him as I promised when I had worked out my feelings but it was already too late.
The wound from my experience could not heal to allow me to venture out and try again. I closed my heart and ran away from every guy that looked like he wanted more than I could give. I had a history.
I must have been deep in my thoughts for I did not hear a word of the speech Andrew gave, and we were all dispersed to our desk. It was not an excuse not to work because it is the boss’s birthday.
Why don’t they declare holidays on such days? I could do with one today.I thought.
I ran through my calendar to check the clients I had to visit and issues to tackle as I planned the week.
How did I miss that? We had a meeting with Chief Emeka Ani in Festac town. A wealthy shipping mogul at 12 pm with my Manager.
I called him to find out if he had it on his calendar and would be able to make it.
I was glad he did. We should be setting out by 10 am if we were to make it. I called the driver to the pool car as ours had taken his for servicing. The guy chooses odd days to service his car. Who would do such at the beginning of the week when he could have used a weekend? I fumed. The pool driver had been taken out by another team.
“Of course, we would be using the manager’s car,” I chuckled to myself, why was my brain slow this morning.
A headache was setting in. “I could not deal with problems, not today,” I muttered to myself.
My Manager and I were meeting Chief Emeka Ani for the first time. I had been running after an appointment with him for six months. My lucky break came when I met him at another client’s daughter’s wedding. I stuck to him like a leech until he gave me an appointment which was three months away. I called last week to reconfirm the meeting and was too glad when it was confirmed. I half expected the man to cancel it.
I printed the dossier I had on the client so that my Boss could read it on the way.
The report contained personal as well as business information about his net worth and network.
Chief Emeka was the largest individual shipping magnate in the country, and a lot of the importer and few exporters in the country made use of his shipping line. He had friends in high places especially the customs and it was a taboo to prevent his ship from unloading at the port or delayed from leaving.
The Customs Controller General was his friend. Last Christmas chief had doled out the latest Honda cars as gifts to top personnel in the customs.
While I was not playing the role of a police officer, I did not need to be a Sherlock Holms to know that Chief was playing in dirty waters and all these gifts released was to ensure his business ran smoothly. Nevertheless, mine was to get him to use my Bank for all his transactions ensuring that the bank is safe and not roped into any financial crimes saga in the future. Foremost was to get all the proper documentation in place validating the authenticity of his business and should there be any problem in the future, the risk to our bank will be mitigated.
Andrew read the dossier on the way to the 12 pm appointment with Chief Emeka. The dossier had been Lana’s idea on most of the account she signed on to the company.
It was Lana and her friend Peju that prepared reports on clients for him to read before any meeting. The girls must be good in information gathering, or they had someone who did it for them professionally. The reports were so thorough that details and events of both personal and business lives of clients were available chronologically that you could almost make an inference on their next move.
They left nothing to chance, mundane details like preferred colours, drinks, relaxation spots, favourite child, and football club were all in there.
I liked the idea of the report because it gave you an idea of how to approach and present your proposal to the person. You were not coming from a blind perspective but from an informed position with knowledge good enough to get into the head of the client, prompt his questions and answer them proactively. It gave you an upper hand to close the deal.
It was not a wonder how they both amassed a huge clientele base of high net worth individuals. The portfolio between the two friends were some three to four branches put together.
I asked a question while perusing the report and was surprised not to get a response. Glancing up, I noticed Lana was fast asleep with her head at an odd angle.
I tapped her lightly so she could adjust her head but she was far gone into dreamland to have noticed. I don’t know why but looking at her sleeping so peacefully without her guarded demeanour and armour of efficiency, she looked vulnerable. I felt this protective instinct to protect her but from what I asked myself. Keep to your professional role. I chided myself.
I placed the middle seat down and guided her head so she could sleep as comfortably as possible. A nap should help. She must be tired coming straight from Dubai to the office, these ladies think they are superhuman, now nature has come calling, and you can’t argue or fight back but succumb.
I decided to settle in my corner of the car with today’s newspaper reading from page to page starting from the sports section hoping that should kill time.
“Sleeping on duty?” I teased when I heard her stir.
“Did I sleep?” She asked the obvious question alarmed.
“I am sorry sir,” she apologised.
Shaking my head, I said, “No Madam” in response to her using “sir” after one too many reminders it was no longer applicable to our workplace.
“You need not give apologies. I doubt your coffee and all the forces of the world could have prevented you,” I teased again watching her squirm.
Why I loved to tease her at most opportunities were lost on me but with my sister away I guess old habits don’t die you look for the next available target and Lana was one.
I watch her check her time with a gasp as she lounged into her bag like a dog looking for a bone in the sand.
Then she came up with a black bag the size of a sandwich, not until she opened it did I understand what the fuss and hurry were about.A cosmetic bag with items in different shapes and sizes.It was a wonder the things that small bag contained.
She started some repair work on a face that looked okay to me only when she finished. She looked more than looked good.
Lana put on a red lipstick like the one I saw her with at Chief Idowu’s function some few months ago. Now how did I remember that? I hope I am not becoming paranoid.
She smacked her lips together satisfactory.
“He likes red lipstick,” she remarked.
“Who?” I asked alarmed.
“Chief Emeka,” she answered like it was something I should know.
I looked at her clueless,” if he likes red lipstick what has that got to do with you?” I was clearly annoyed I thought my team members were a better breed of ladies. It was common knowledge that most of the women in marketing and sales included their bodies in the package. I had told my team members. The Bank will not condone such behaviour.
“I can’t afford to look anything that would put him off.That could close our discussion fast,” Lana said without caution.
“It’s human psychology,” she continued like we were having a normal conversation.
I mused at what she said.
“Don’t you think it rather sends another message other than the professional front you want to put up?” I asked through seethed teeth controlling the anger I felt
“No,” she argued.
“You would not want to stay longer with me if I was wearing a colour or perfume that you found disgusting,” she said digging into her bag to spray her perfume not without opening the window.
‘Thanks”, I said appreciating her thoughtfulness although she should not be doing all that in the car.
“This account means a lot to you?” I asked trying to get into her head and see things from her perspective. I did not like the desperation I read in all these moves.
“Like every account sir,” she said noncommittally.
“Do you want me to back off? I see you have it all sorted out,” I getting irritable and could not understand why.
“Nope, Chief likes dealing with the big shots, he will feel slighted if I did not come with the Branch head,” she explained.
“Then we have to make you one very soon,” I said as a matter of fact.
“Not until another five years going by my projection,” she answered.
I was not surprised she had thought of it. I smiled.
My thoughts started spinning. I should work on moving Peju and Lana to branch heads soon they were doing great jobs and did not need that five years projection. I will do a report on them at the end of the quarter and submit to the Regional Manager. But I was not pleased if they had joined the bandwagon of those selling their bodies to meet their targets.
The meeting with Chief Emeka was productive. The man signed on before we left with a hefty cheque of N20 billion naira.
Where Lana gets her contacts from still baffles me. She had a string of high net worth individuals on her portfolio and managed them well.
I did not miss the way Chief Emeka eyes kept ogling at her and sometimes her legs.
I was sick to my stomach at a time when he licked his lips. These were examples of men that brought shame to us men and made women classify us as dogs on prowl settling for anything in skirts even if they were young enough to be your daughters.
I sat so straight in my disgust that I could feel the pain in my back. I could not wait to finish the meeting and leave.
What further baffled me was how oblivious Lana was to the undercurrent going on in the room. I did wonder what would have happened if Lana came alone. He certainly looked like one that was ready to pounce on his prey. I doubted if he thought she was coming with someone.
I did not like the man. I would not deal with him either at close range or with a long stick.
Lana needed to be careful in her dealings with this man and other men like him.
I drew a long breath the moment we were out of his office. I could not quantify the relief I felt to be out of that office.
I was shocked to realise I slept in the car on our way to Chief Emeka’s office.
I could not recall placing the middle seat to rest my head and wondered if Andrew did but I could not conjure the thought in my head that he would go out of his way. He is my boss.
The speed at which I reached for my bag to do damage control to what would have become of my face must have been hilarious because when I stole a glance at his face, he was looking bewildered.
I picked the red lipstick I had used during Chief Idowu’s party and applied to my lips.
I teased my Manager that the client liked it, and we had to do what the client wanted after all they were the ones that said the customer is king.
He looked more infuriated and argued if I was not sending wrong messages to the client.
I don’t know why I did not bother to correct him that I was joking.
I had never pushed my looks before my professional front to any client.
All my clients have been well behaved and respectful men if they misbehaved I had no clue as none never came my way.
I felt Andrew was unnecessarily going overboard for nothing. He was behaving more like a jealous boyfriend than a boss.
As we left Chief Emeka’s office, Andrew waited for me to step out o the office and followed with his hand on the small of my back. I felt like an electric current passed through me but recovered quickly and began stewing in my silent rage. Why did I feel like he was placing a seal of ownership on me?
I was not about to jump into Bed with Chief. He was not and would not be the first client I had, and Andrew did not always go with me to see these Clients.
The moment we got to the car.
I told Andrew exactly how I felt.
He smiled, “I did not now it was evident,” was all he said with no remorse.
“I would have done the same for my sister,” he said.
“You are not meat. You are a human being, and men should look at you beyond your curves and legs,” he said stubbornly.
“That was not professional,” I retorted. I would have been madder if we had lost the N25 billion but I was mad all the same because I felt Andrew was saying to me I could not handle things on my own.
“I do not need anyone to protect me out there. You do not always go out with me for my calls. I do not sell my body. I never have and will not contrary to all the stories you hear out there of how girls in this line of career sleep around for deposits,” I was livid and did not care he was my boss. He had crossed the line.
“All I have made has been professional with no strings attached. I use information and loopholes I recognise in their financial services. And any useful information I glean from my dossiers. If you want people to buy anything from you, have to position what you are selling to meet your needs,” I said coldly.
We got into the car, and you could cut the vibes with a knife.
Why was I angry?
He had only but looked out for me, and I was upset about it.
Would I have been okay with it, if he was not perturbed?
I could not answer all the questions flying around my head.
“I heard Peju’s voice in the background.
You questions and reason everything. You can’t always be in control.
I did not like the fact that he did not trust me.
I closed my eyes and sighed.
I gave a start, and my eyes flew open when I felt pressure on my hands.
Andrew had taken my hands in one of his and was rubbing with the other as you would do trying to calm a petulant child.
“I am not a child,” I said as I snapped my hands away from with his.
“You’re tired. I never meant to treat you like a child,” he said in his baritone voice.
The sound was so soothing that I was afraid I would ending up bowling in front of him and the driver. My head was messed up. My nerves were raw. I would soon find fault with a fly if it came within my reach.
“Your journey and coming straight to work must be taking a toll on you. I’ll have the driver drop you off at home,” he said like he did not hear a single thing I said earlier.
“You can take the rest of the day off. You’ve earned it,” he smiled his boyish smile.
“Thanks, I smiled too wanting to apologise but stubbornly fighting it back but in the end in a small inaudible voice, I said, “sorry.”
“That’s okay,” he said taking my hands again and this time around I did not fight back.