By Anthony Dim
As always happened whenever you were late for work, your mind wasn’t focused on being comfortable. In a danfo bus that backfired along the Second Mainland Bridge you were sandwiched in-between two round-faced robust market women who both smelled of fresh pepper and tomatoes, and spoke in sleepy voices about how stupid the bus driver was, to have meandered in the midst of bigger buses, to have speedily swayed in and out of wrong lanes until the passengers began to curse and swear at him in sharp tones.
Too much stretch marks around their arms like thunder strokes, the observation flashed your mind. As if inviting you to share in their disappointment, the one on your left turned to you and said “shebi? This driver no good. I no talk am?” your lips were pursed, you wouldn’t respond, and you couldn’t hide the frown on your face. They didn’t know how much you wanted to gather your scattered thoughts, they didn’t know about the threatening text message you had received from your boss at the office. It read: “Chinedu I don’t think you really love your job”, and it was shortly after Kemi manifested the best of her foolishness on facebook. Thanks to Mama Chioma who pleaded with the other women to allow you go to work. As for Kemi, you thought she could be brushed up and enlightened, but your efforts for the last three years were as wasted as pouring water into a basket.
“What is paining him?” the woman said in Yoruba, snarled and cut her eyes at you before turning to the conductor to ask for her change. You couldn’t tell whether the dots of sweat on her snouted nose were as a result of heat, or because of anger. But why should people be angry about other people’s anger? What is her business in this situation? She wasn’t even worthy of your attention in the first place. But you struggled to keep your calm. Well, you had become angry about her anger as well. Anger is contagious. You looked towards the opened window and watched other vehicles that sliced past on the other bridge that faced opposite direction, but your heart was pounding as fast as the heavy winds rushed in through the window, at your face.
It would be impossible to pull your phone out of your pocket, so you couldn’t see what was happening on facebook, you would have been rumpled into disappearance in the middle of these women if you had been a piece of cloth, so you felt thankful that the situation in the bus had not been the worst it could be.
On the marble-paved corridors at Oladele Insurance Company building in Mary Land you felt anger squeezing your nostrils, wiped sweat from your face and neck with your kerchief, moving briskly to your Boss’ office while tucking-in your shirt. The secretary had flung a “good morning” at you, the receptionist had waved, the uniformed security men had given you a thumbs-up sign at the gate, you responded to none of them, their faces had all seemed passive and vague in your retina. You knocked on your boss’ office with so much gentleness.
“Come in”. In the air-conditioned office your boss was slumped to her desk, facing a computer on her right, surfing through the internet. And when you noticed her new hair-do, it reminded you of the hair-do Kemi had on her head yesterday when you noticed her shadow in the toilet “Good day ma. I am very sorry for coming late, the traffic was too much…”
“We all travel on the same roads Mister Chinedu so don’t give me that crap” she said cuttingly, not facing you yet. Refreshing a web page she gasped. “I am fed up with marketers like you really. I am really fed up. Chief Odinjo wanted you in his office this morning at half past seven to discuss business. You, you don’t respect your employment do you? I was to give you a signed appointment letter here before you set out. I got a call from his secretary just now…he won’t be in office after eight. He really wanted to work with us”
“He didn’t want to work with us. He wanted to work with my body, inside my clothes. He wanted to poke me” you said “chief is gay. I heard. He is a homo”
“And does it automatically mean he wants to sleep with you?” she retorted. “Because he’s gay you expect him to want to explore everything under trousers and shorts that pass by? Don’t stereotype people. Don’t be stupid! You’re really foolish Mister Chinedu. Foolish! We don’t need the sexual orientation, we need money. When you work in the UK where I had been, you’ll know that what you have just said is arrant nonsense, Nigerian nonsense” she turned off the computer screen and turned to your direction with a penetrating stare, her hair-do made her come across as very firm, like a bespectacled hawk, and it kind of matched her authoritative urban voice.
“Oh-my…what happened to your shirt? You’re sweating, you look terrible. You look disheveled” she said evenly, her eyes shone as she examined you from toe to head.
“I was robbed on my way to the office ma” you looked down, fixed your gaze on her see-through socks which were visible from under her desk. You felt grateful that you had indeed looked terrible, and had told such a creative lie without needing time to sort it out between your ears.
“Oh my goodness! I am so sorry” her tone softened, it made your head feel soft. “You really should have a day off…such a trauma” she took off her glasses “These hooligans in Lagos! What did they take from you? Did they beat you? Do I call the police?”
“Oh no ma, they took nothing from me. Don’t involve the police. I fought my way and took off”.
“I am giving you a day off Chinedu. You shall be going to Chief’s office when next he makes an appointment with us. And try to grow up, Chief is not a goat”. You wondered whether you had heard her correctly, a day off? She faced her table and flipped a file open “You are not handsome by the way. My gay friends don’t like people with excess forehead” she added as you made your way to the door. Your phone beeped, a message from Kemi: “Have you checked your facebook?” Your head hardened again, then you remembered the women in your compound who were probably waiting for your return, to ask you why you had screamed the moment you peered into your phone screen.
“Madam, I don’t mind working today. Am not going home, I will stay”
“But you can’t be looking so terrible in my office Chinedu, you’re a marketer who represents our interests. I won’t let you represent us at any firm with this rumpled shirt of yours and sweats around your buttocks area” she pointed at your shirt with a pen in hand. “If you don’t want to go home you can go relax in one of the empty offices. Johnson will be here at twelve. He’ll do the rest of today’s job”.
You lurched out of her office and headed straight to the empty office near the secretary’s, phone in hand as you peered into your phone.
“This is the biggest disgrace in the world” one of your friends had commented on the screenshot, it was Uchenna. So many reactions ranging from laughter to surprise. Your motion felt terribly slow as if you were walking on fine sand. You blocked all friends who had written mocking comments, then blocked Kemi on facebook. You would call her to tell her it was over between the both of you, you would tell her unapologetically that you do not want a foolish human being for a wife.
On facebook, Kemi seemed to have moved on with her life, as if nothing had happened. She had shared Prince Jacon’s status that said a Nigerian character named Olanna had been included in Game of Thrones, with a caption that read “Proudly Naija”. Prince Jacon was a mutual friend, she should have known that Prince Jacon had a great sense of humor and wasn’t passing the status as news, Kemi was terribly foolish! She even wrote a comment afterwards that read “I pray they add omo Yoruba inside next time. Me am happy sha”. She got comments from her fellow fools who professed they were proudly Nigerian. And you realized that even on facebook, birds of the same feathers still flocked together”.
You sank into a sofa in the unused office, feeling tired and sleepy even though it was barely ten in the morning. The secretary’s phone conversation was coming through the wall, you heard her clearly saying something about girlfriend catching a boyfriend shitting. Sleep varnished from your eyes, you inched forward from the sofa, craned your neck against the wall, she hung up.
You sprang from the sofa, dashed out of the unused office and stood by the door of the secretary’s office which stood ajar. “It is really a disgrace. Even the fiancée, I don’t know why she treated him like that. Telling people on facebook” she was speaking to the albino receptionist who was known as the official gossip-general in the company, and you didn’t like him for this. “Why should her fiancée do that?” You couldn’t hear anymore, it was enough. Enough of the defamation! Enough of their gossips! You pushed the door wide open and walked into the room, unbuckling your belt. The receptionist took cover behind the secretary who seemed rather shocked.
“Surprised? Don’t give me those stupid looks Mrs Ejenavi” you snapped at her “Don’t you shit? Look at that idiot behind you who goes around punching the noses of people’s dignity. Idiot! Unemployment has made you a receptionist – don’t you shit? See me see trouble o.”
“Mr…Chinedu-” he said, scratching the silver hairs on his head
“-C-mon shut it. Just shut up your dirty stupid mouth because I am about to flog it. I go beat you en, I am ready to be fired” your voice echoed, hovered around the large office with its whiff of anger.
“Mister Chinedu what is this supposed to mean?” she had pronounced it “Shinedu”
“If I am hear pim from you again en, I flog ya breast” you said to the secretary who still looked astonished, and her astonishment astonished you a little. Your leather belt was raised in the air, dancing like the koboko of Fulani herdsmen, then a security officer rushed in and gripped your hands. The secretary looked rather angry, not fearful as you expected she would. She pulled her suit forward, neared you “Are you mad? Mister Chinedu are you mad? Is it not enough that I greeted you in the morning and you didn’t respond?” her head shook in disgust. Now everything seemed to be happening fast, members of staff had started pouring into the office, gathering around you in the restlessness that resembled the frenzy of mosquitoes darting here and there when attracted by lights.
“I am going to sue you for defamation” you said awkwardly to her, struggling against having your hands tightly held back by two security men. They overpowered you. Chills ran down your spines when you saw members of staff give way for your boss who walked into the office, holding a white envelope. She heeled the door shut behind her.
“Can someone explain what the problem is?” she looked dumbfounded “I…I don’t get it” her head shook, her hair-do was ready to fall off, now you knew it was only an exotic wig.
“Madam I honestly don’t know whether Mister Chinedu is mentally stable. Something is wrong somewhere” the secretary spoke up “I was having a conversation with the receptionist” she gestured to him behind her “about a friend who cheated on his girlfriend and his girlfriend made it known on social network. Facebook. Her name is Grace” she paused as if to summon enough saliva to lubricate her throat, her chest heaved “then this man just jumped in from nowhere, I don’t know whether he has an experience, like he thinks I was talking about him or something”. You were filled with self-loathe, you could slap yourself over and over again. The secretary had said cheat and not shit but she pronounced it shit, people who grew up in Warri were known for exchanging “Ch” for “sh”. In a wave of resentment you felt dazed. “Finished” was the word for the day again, so there was no need of changing your whatssap status.
“Madam I take God beg you” you turned to your boss, dropping slowly on your knees.
To be continued next Saturday
Anthony Dim works as content supervisor for Afreecan Read literary community, Kwa-Zulu natal, South Africa. He writes fiction and non-fiction. He lives in Marianhill.