“Do you know the saying that goes thus, ‘do not be friends with your boss’?” He asked with a pointed and unflinching gaze.
Ochuko stared at her new boss who had the friendliest eyes she’d ever seen and said.
“Disregard that saying.” Fred said with a smile.
Ochuko didn’t know whether to laugh or ask if he was joking. They were both seated in his office and smiling at each other.
“I have worked in a very friendly environment before and I know that a conducive and relaxed working environment, helps get the job done.” He continued.
“I wonder what Mr. Samuel will say about this…” She said, more to herself than to him.
“Pardon? I didn’t hear you.” He said to her.
“Me? I…I didn’t say anything.” She denied.
“Your lips moved.” He said with a grin.
“Well…” She sighed, wondering if it was a bad decision to rat out her former boss before the new one. “Mr. Samuel has some rules about the workplace and its definitely not errr…a friendly environment.”
“Hmmm…” He said with a smile. “I see that Mr. Samuel and I might have to set up a boxing ring within the walls of the office.
“Whatever for?” She asked in amusement.
“For the both of us, I mean, we’ll have to fight each other in order to make sure that our rules stand.”
“You’re very mischievous.” Ochuko laughed.
“Well…a lot of people say that I’m blunt.” He continued.
Ochuko smiled and stared at him. He had a very nice smile and her heart which previously raced when she’d heard that he wanted to see her in his office had calmed down considerably.
“That’s good to hear.”
“So, let’s get down to business.” He said. “I’d like to see some of your work. It would be helpful to know how far you’ve gone, what challenges you’re facing in your field and what I can do to help you solve them.”
“I’ll send a report to your email.” She said.
He picked up a pen and a jotter and quickly wrote down his email address and ripped the paper off, then handed it to her. She took it from him and stood up from the chair.
“Thank you.” She said and made to leave.
“Ochuko.” He called.
“Yes…” She spun around to face him.
“Thank you.” He said.
She smiled, nodded and left the office with his email address in her hands. As soon as she got to her desk, her colleague said to her.
“What did he tell you? That new boss of ours is something else. He is so different. I guess it’s because he hasn’t been in Nigeria for quite a while. He’s too humble.” Franka said.
“I was surprised by his manner of approach, he is really so cool.” Ochuko added.
“Unlike the Ogre, Mr. Samuel. Thankfully, he can get off his high horse now that his replacement has arrived.”
Ochuko didn’t like to gossip, so she shrugged and took her seat. Her colleague continued speaking.
“Your phone has been ringing off the hook…”
“Really?” Ochuko asked as she pushed her hand into her bag and brought out her phone. “Twenty-eight missed calls?”
She looked at the caller ID, it was Vuoke.
“Ochuko, you’re in soup…” She whispered to herself as she dialled Vuoke’s number while her heart thumped in her chest.
Vuoke quickly answered the call.
“Where have you been?” He spat angrily.
“I am sorry Vuoke, we were in a staff meeting and phones aren’t allowed.” She lied.
“Is that so?” He asked.
“Yes…” She said. “Why…why were you calling?”
“Should I have a reason for calling my fiancé?” He spat over the phone.
There was silence.
“Your answer is yes, isn’t it? Besides, you have the ring with you. Many ladies your age will jump at the opportunity but you’re still playing hard to get.”
“It’s not that…I told you that I have to speak with daddy and…”
“No one is stopping you from speaking with your dad. All I want to know is that we are getting married.”
“Okay…” She said.
“I hate it when you give me one-word answers.”
Ochuko was tired, she could tell that Vuoke was in a very bad mood and she wasn’t ready to fuel it any further.
“I…have to go now, my supervisor just arrived.” She lied.
“You’re coming over to the house tonight right?” He asked. “I’ll drop you off at work tomorrow.”
It was at the tip of Ochuko’s tongue to tell him that she had no change of clothes at his house as the last time they’d had a fight, he’d told her to pack all her things from his place. Instead, she said.
When she ended the call, she thought of what to do for a change of clothing. She made a mental note to call her mother and tell her to ask her little sister to bring one of her work clothes to her shop at Lagos Island and during lunch time, send her to drop it off at her office.
Chioma was having a nervous breakdown. The neighbours had loaded all their stuff into the flat upstairs and she could hear the cry of her baby girl as their flat was directly above hers.
“God why? What kind of problem is this now ehn? Can’t someone drink water and drop cup in this life? Of all houses to rent, why mine? Couldn’t they find another place? This is a nightmare! I can’t let this happen. I can’t let my son grow up next to his biological mother and my daughter, grow up next to her sisters. What sort of temptation is this biko?”
She paced the bedroom of her flat and stared at the baby who was sleeping peacefully on the bed she shared with her husband. Nnamdi had dropped her off with the baby about three hours ago and now, she was home alone. Instead of enjoying her child and resting after long hours of labour at the hospital, she was parading the bedroom of her house.
She gave herself a short pep-talk.
“Chioma, you are brave! You are a fighter! You are a strong woman and no matter what, nothing can defeat you. Why are you upset about the neighbours? What’s your business with them? Stay on your lane while they stay on theirs, abi? Mtcheww! I wonder why you’re worrying over nothing.”
She walked over to sit on the chair in the room when she heard footsteps at the back of her window. Since her flat was downstairs and the back flat, she could hear practically everything that happened at the back of the house. She pulled open the curtains to see two young ladies in their early twenties, placing a baby hanger beside the wall of the house and spreading baby clothes on it.
“We should have waited for the house to be properly arranged before bringing out these clothes.” One said to the other.
“I washed the baby clothes last night and I had no idea that we had to move today or I won’t have washed them. Now, we have to spread the baby’s clothes outside here instead of at the balcony because there are lots of stuff that haven’t been properly arranged in the house.” The second lady said.
“Don’t worry, the house will be put in order soon and we’ll be able to hang the clothes on the hanger, upstairs.”
“Okay.” The second lady said. “I’ve been thinking…”
“There’s no light skinned person in our lineage so, how come the baby girl is very light-skinned?”
“I don’t know ooo…I know my sister so well so I’m sure that she didn’t stray.” The first one said.
“I don’t mean that though, I’m just surprised that the baby looks nothing like her brothers or even her parents. She looks very different. It’s almost like we have an alien baby.”
“Well, God works in mysterious ways.”
“That’s so true besides, why should we complain, God has blessed us with a baby girl so…my sister-in-law can rest from childbirth.”
“Abi ooo….you people should let my sister rest ooo.” The first one laughed.
“My dear, I sent my mom the picture of the baby and she was so thrilled even though she asked if the baby was exchanged at the hospital because she looks so different from us.” The second one laughed.
“Your mother is a clown, I swear.” The first one laughed.
The two ladies laughed and spread the baby clothes.
Chioma stared through the window, she was about to have a heart attack.
Bisiola was in her restaurant, she had just finished speaking with the cook about the menu for the week and was about to leave when her phone rang. One of her staff rushed up to her to inform her about something but she raised her hand to the girl and she stopped in her tracks.
“Hello…” She said into the phone.
“Hi…how are you?” A male voice spoke to her.
“I’m well…who is this please?”
“Have you forgotten the security man, so soon?”
“Fred? You’re so silly. How are you?” She asked with a smile.
“Hungry.” He replied.
“Hmmm…it all depends on what you want to eat.” She flirted.
“I want vegetable soup and pounded yam with goat meat.” He said.
“So, with all your foreign education, you want our local food?”
“Hey, what do you mean by that? I’m a naija guy, through and through.” He said laughing.
“Have you had lunch yet?” She asked.
“Nope but I was hoping that you could join me for lunch.” He said.
“Where?” She asked.
“I don’t know…I’m new here…” He said.
“I thought you’re a naija boy through and through. You should know your way around your country.”
“Well…I don’t know where I could have the best vegetable soup with pounded yam on a sunny afternoon.”
“Okay, let’s see…” She said, pretending to think. “I have a place in mind…can you come over to Chef Rightville?”
“Huh? Where’s that?”
“I’ll send you the address, it’s a new place but it opens only at night but I’m sure they’ll make an exception.” She said with a wide smile.
“Okay, send me the address and I’ll be there.”
She smiled and hung up, then turned to face her staff who was still standing there.
“Before you speak, go to the cook and tell her to get a pot of delicious vegetable soup ready. I also need pounded yam as well.”
The staff nodded and turned around to go.
“Come back here!” She ordered.
The staff walked towards her but just before she could come any closer, Bisiola spat.
“Stop there, I don’t want anyone standing very close to me. I’m not ready to perceive foul odours from unwashed armpits.” She spat. “What is it that you wanted to tell me?”
“Ma…errmm…we are short on…waiters…” She stammered.
“What do you mean we’re short on waiters? I hired eight people before the launch.”
“Yes ma…but six resigned and the only waiters left are just me and Titi.”
Bisola growled, she glared at the girl like a Tiger.
“Where is Mr. Chukwudi? He is in charge of the welfare of the waiters. Why didn’t he inform me that they resigned?” She spat.
“Ma…Mr. Chukwudi resigned yesterday ma…” She said in a quaking voice.
“What? How? When? Who did he tell? Do you people want to run down my business? Do you realize that this is a multi-million-naira restaurant? Do you know that none of you is worth my restaurant and even if I auction all of you, I won’t get one tenth of the amount spent on making this place world-class? You are all a bunch of ignorant pigs, useless individuals who think the workplace is a place to play. I swear that none of my former staff will ever get a good job, ever!” She screamed.
The girl stood there and quivered.
“Take my bag to my car, I need to freshen up before having lunch with someone. Make sure you tell my cook that if that food doesn’t taste good, she should also resign as well and join the resigned staff in their miserable lives.”
Ochuko picked up her phone and answered her mother’s call. Her mother’s singing voice floated down the line, Ochuko was surprised that her mother was singing.
“From east to west, no other God, from north to south, I say there is no other God…”
Ochuko was puzzled, she took her phone away from her ear and looked at it sceptically.
“Mom, is everything alright? Did we win the lottery?” She asked.
“More than that my dear, we didn’t just win the lottery, we won a pot of gold.”
Ochuko was surprised and delighted at the same time.
“Serious? What happened? Did daddy’s contract go through?” She asked excitedly.
“Hmmm…it’s better than that my dear…” Her mother said.
“Please tell me what it is.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that my favourite man in the whole wide world, proposed to you?”
Ochuko’s heart skipped a beat.
“Which one is huh? Vuoke called me a few minutes ago asking for my blessing to marry you. He said that that’s the only thing stopping you from saying yes, so, my darling daughter, I am giving the both of you, my fullest blessings.”
“Mom, Vuoke called you?”
“Yes ke…why do you sound surprised?”
“But you are dangerous ooo…so, Vuoke had proposed since Saturday and you came home with a straight face and didn’t even tell anyone about it.”
“It’s not that, I wanted to…errm…”
“Why did you tell him that daddy travelled when he is very much around?”
“Wait…mummy, did you tell Vuoke that daddy is around?”
“Of course, yes! The bible says and I quote, ‘a liar shall not see the kingdom of heaven.’”
“Mom…why? Oh my God…”
“Look, I don’t know about you but I am so happy. In fact, I called pastor Bolaji and testified to the goodness of God. Now, I can invite my friends for my daughter’s wedding, my own daughter’s wedding! All my mockers have been put to shame. The devil has been trampled underfoot and victory is mine. I will personally hand over your wedding invitation card to my enemies ooo…I won’t even do text message invite at all. I want my enemies to feel my victory. In fact, we are going for thanksgiving on Sunday and I am buying the fattest goat for it.”
Ochuko didn’t know what else to say.
“Ehen, I am sending your sister to your office right now with the clothes you asked for but I am also sending some asoebi samples for you to choose from. You know we have to start getting asoebis ready. I am thinking coral and champagne gold for colours, my friend’s daughter used it for her wedding three years ago and it was beautiful. I am also thinking of travelling to Dubai to get the asoebi fabrics, what do you think?”
Ochuko hung up the phone. She couldn’t breathe.
To be continued….