This is so not happening the way I thought it would. This is not going according to plan at all. I muttered to myself as I crossed the road to where my car was parked. This LASTMA official has the audacity to attach my car to a tow truck? I’m not even parked illegally.
“Hey mister, what do you think you’re doing?” I asked impatiently as soon as I got to him.
“Is this your car, madam?”
“No, it’s my grandma’s car.” I answered sarcastically. I’ve so not got time for this. I’m already too late for my meeting. I don’t need the hassle of an overzealous government official.
“Well, tell your grandma to come to our office to get her car.” He gave me as good as he got.
I sighed impatiently. “Oga, what do you want?”
“Madam, is this your car?” he asked again.
“Yes, it’s mine. Why is it attached to your truck?”
“You parked illegally. This is a no-parking zone.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Madam, please check the sign above you.” He gestured to a battered sign with barely recognizable letters.
The sign must have seen centuries of sun and rain on its sorry self; the paint job was so chipped and worn, the letter ‘N’ was completely faded and the ‘ING’ part of the ‘PARKING’ was folded in on itself. It was no surprise I didn’t catch it before parking my car. And here I thought I had been so careful.
I decided to try reasoning with him since I was at fault. “Bros, I didn’t see the sign o. This sign has seen better days now. I thought I parked in a good space.”
“Well, you didn’t. You were not supposed to park here and anything could have happened to your car. Who would you have complained to then?”
“I understand, but nothing happened. I’m here now, so you can leave the car.”
“It doesn’t work that way, madam. The car is attached to the truck already so you have to come to our office with me and pay the fine to get your car released to you.”
“Haba bros, let’s settle this here now. No need to get to your office.”
“I’m sorry but I can’t help you. My hands are tied. That’s the procedure.”
“No, I can’t accept that.” I disagreed. “This sign is barely recognizable. You can’t hold me responsible for the neglect of the government to repair signs and what-not. You have to help me; I’m late for an appointment as it is.”
He didn’t even act as if he heard me. He just walked away and went to the passenger side of the tow truck. It was then I noticed the other officer in the driver’s seat. I quickly approached him; maybe he can talk some sense into his colleague.
“Oga, abeg help me talk to your friend now. I’m ready to do whatever it takes to settle this here once and for all.” I appealed to the stone-faced man.
He didn’t even deign to answer me. He just pointed to his stone-faced twin seated beside him and kept mute.
The bane of my existence turned to me tight-lipped. “Madam, I already told you. Come get your car at the office.”
I accepted my fate meekly. It was that or I come to blows with them. It was just my luck that I happened to be dealing with the least corrupt officials in this frustrating city. “Can I at least have the address?”
That surprised him. “You won’t be coming with us?”
“No. I told you earlier, I am late for a very important appointment.”
“Suit yourself.” He reeled off an address and I quickly typed it on my phone.
“Can I have your number, please? In case I get lost; I’m not so familiar with this city.”
He grudgingly gave me his number too and I typed it gratefully. At least, he didn’t deny me that.
“Thank you.” I said.
“We’ll be expecting you.” He replied and they drove off.
I watched my car being pulled away helplessly. There was nothing to be done about that now. I checked my watch and grimaced. I was running behind and I didn’t even know where the meeting was to take place specifically; one of the hazards of moving into a new and strange city.
I’ll have to try my luck with a taxi. Luckily, one drove by and I quickly hailed it. He parked beside the curb and I jumped in.
“Where to, madam?” the driver asked.
“Number 9, SME Street, Ikeja.” I replied.
“Okay.” He smiled and turned back to the road.
“How many minutes is it going to take to get there?”
“About twenty minutes if there’s no traffic.” His spoken English was very fluent.
“Okay, thanks. I’ll pay you double if you can get me there in half that time.”
He grinned at me through the rearview mirror and stamped on the accelerator.
I watched the scenery out of my window as we drove through the city, thinking back on the circumstances that brought me to this impasse. I just moved to Lagos city about two weeks ago, seeking greener pastures and a fresh start. If anyone absolutely needs a fresh start in their life, it’s definitely me, Ella Bendel.
These past five years of my life have not been funny, and I wouldn’t wish my experience on anyone. My village people think I am a witch and my family thinks I’m possessed. All because I have had the audacity to be divorced twice.
Is it my fault that the two men I married didn’t live up to expectations? One of them was a boy really, and the other was a man, a tough guy. The boy was just an immature baby that I got married to too early and the tough guy was so tough he battered me at every opportunity he had. My mum had the temerity to tell me I deserved whatever I got.
My two marriages were not the best there was. The first happened too soon and too early and the other was everything I wanted, until it was not.
I met Bayo (the boy), on campus. I was eighteen years old, in my third year in the university. We met at a friend’s party one night and we hit it off immediately. By the time that night was over, it was as if we had known each other for many years.
Our relationship developed and grew from that point. I couldn’t wait to be with him, he was everything I wanted in a man; tall, dark, handsome, classy, dresses well, and fulfills all the criteria girls give for choosing a man. We got engaged in our final year, and immediately after graduation, we got married. I was barely twenty-one.
It was after marriage that I discovered my TDH man was just a baby. Of course, I had some glimpses when we were still dating, instances when he insisted I have to pay for dinner because I was the one who invited him, or that one time when he was undressing another babe with his eyes right in front of me, and he insisted he was just reading the inscription on her t-shirt.
He was so insecure and didn’t know one thing about managing a home and a wife. He held four jobs in the course of two years and lost them all. Then, the cheating and drinking started. The lies and never-ending apologies. The constant parade of women in and out of our house, of course they were all his co-workers. The many nights he came back home, drunk out of his mind.
It got to a head when I caught him in our bed with another woman. I wasn’t about to take that and I filed for divorce immediately. We were married for just two years and it was the longest years of my life.
Naturally, I gravitated towards a man that was the complete opposite of my ex-husband. I met Tony at a barbecue organized by my company. The company had just acquired a struggling telecommunications company. Ours was a well-established one so we bought the other company. The directors wanted a level ground and a non-threatening environment for the amalgamation of the two company’s personnel, hence the barbecue.
Tony was a manager at the company we acquired. He was confident to the point of being arrogant, totally on his game, had a career to be proud of, had short-term goals and non-term goals, was not very handsome but handsome doesn’t do it for me anymore at that point. I was looking for a down-to-earth kind of guy, someone I can fully rely on, and someone that I know has got my back. Tony fits that bill and more.
We dated for almost two years before I finally agreed to marry him. I had learnt my lesson from my first hasty marriage and I was not about to repeat my mistakes. We got married, we were very happy together for two years until the physical and emotional battery started.
I changed jobs, and my husband became paranoid overnight. He was so possessive and filled with jealousy and insecurity. Any small thing set him off. He accused me of cheating on numerable occasions and if I dare defend myself, he pounced on me and beat the shit out of me.
I became very versed in explaining away my injuries. I fell down imaginary stairs, the door hit my eyes on many occasions, and I had an imaginary accident after he hit me to the extent of breaking three of my ribs. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was in the hospital for a month and I made up my mind to leave him while healing.
I decided to open up to my mother, and I had the shock of my life. My mum insisted I must be the one provoking him. Of course, I knew I had a very leaky mouth and sharp tongue, but that didn’t warrant being beaten up every time I opened the said mouth. My mum insisted I apologize to him and be a good little wife. I ignored her of course and divorced him anyway. She had not spoken to me since then.
That was over a year ago. After so much discrimination and angry ignorance heaped on me by my family and friends, I decided I needed a fresh start. After two divorces with nothing to show for it; not even a child to ease my hurt, I knew I was due for a new and invigorating environment. I needed to get my emotional juices flowing again and I couldn’t do it in a place that reminded me of all my failings. I knew I needed a challenge, a charge so to speak, hence my move to Lagos.
I decided to change careers too. It was a total overhaul of my whole life. I switched from the telecommunications lane into interior decorations. I always had an eye for beautiful things and how they should be arranged to give the perfect décor. I had to explore that part of me, and I knew Lagos will afford me the opportunity to do so.
I moved here three months ago, and this afternoon I have a meeting with my very first client. The meeting was arranged by a member of my church who I am friendly with. She’s a cousin to the guy I am meeting and had vouched for me after seeing the work I did in church. This meeting came at the right time, my funds are dwindling already. Now, I’m ready to work and I’m ready to rumble. Lagos, I am here!
I’m still on the look-out though. Yes, I’ve not given up on love. I believe there is someone out there perfectly perfect for me and tailor-made to fit my specific requirements. I still believe in love. I am still in love with love.
The sudden jerk of the cab pulled me out of my reverie. I looked around and saw many high-rise buildings all around me. We must be in the commercial and industrial district.
“Are we there already?” I asked the taxi driver.
“Yes ma’am.” He pointed to a particularly intimidating structure. “That building over there is your destination.”
“Oh, thank you. How much do I owe you?”
“Just #1,500, madam.”
“Okay, here you go.” I handed him two thousand naira.
He got out the change and gave me before I got down from the taxi. I waved to him and set off for the building he indicated earlier.
As soon as I stepped into the reception, I was impressed by the ambience. It was very cozy, with cool air wafting through the AC vents, and a soft music playing in the background. The atmosphere was very welcoming and I loved it. Ideas exploded in my head, I was giddy with happiness at what I could do with all the space.
I introduced myself to the receptionist, and before I knew it, I was ushered into a very plush office. This must be the office of the head of this company, I thought. I was still admiring the room when the receptionist closed the door behind me.
The ‘office’ was as long as a hall and as wide. There was open space and glass windows all around. I got the impression that whoever owns this office loves his space. One end of the room was clearly meant for entertainment and that was where I was facing. There were about five ornate chairs arranged in a semi-circular position and there was a very beautiful center table in front of the chairs. I admired the paintings on the wall; a particular one caught my eye, it was the picture of a boat on a stream with nobody on it. I wondered what it meant to the person that uses this office.
“You’re late.” Came a clear, crisp voice from the end of the room.
I whirled around and saw a man seated behind the biggest desk I had ever seen. The desk almost spanned the width of the room. He barely had space to move out from behind it. He was not smiling and his desk was not inviting either. Why does he need a desk so big? I thought. This must be the man I was supposed to meet, Adelaide’s cousin.
“I’m so sorry. I ran into some difficulty while coming.”
“Save your excuses, lady. I don’t have time to wait indefinitely for an appointment that was supposed to start twenty minutes ago. I have too much to do.”
“I know and I’m sorry. My car was towed by an angry LASTMA official and I couldn’t change his mind. I had to get a taxi here. I’m so sorry for coming late.”
“Lady, save your platitudes. I would have cancelled the appointment but I’m going on with it because of the glowing recommendations my cousin gave you. Now, will you sit so we can get this thing started?”
I was fuming. How dare this arrogant man talk to me this way? I’m not anybody’s lackey. I’m a woman in my own right and I don’t appreciate his curt orders nor his offensive address. I sat on the oversized chair facing his desk with all the dignity I could muster.
“Well?” he asked, while I had barely sat down.
I opened my purse and withdrew the CV I prepared for this interview. “Here is a copy of my resume. You’ll find in there the jobs I’ve successfully done and the recommendations I got from said jobs.”
He didn’t even accept the document. He just stared at me. “Since you’ve wasted half the time allotted to this interview, you’ll have to impress me with your words. There’s no time to read that. And you have to be very persuasive; so far, I’ve seen nothing to impress me.”
I couldn’t take it anymore. “You have been insulting me since the moment I stepped into this room. If you can get off your high horse long enough to accept my apology and let me explain myself, we might start off on a better foot.” I snapped.
“Well, well, well. She’s got fire.”
I tightened my mouth to keep from talking anymore. I had gone and blown the chance I had with my big mouth.
“Point of correction though, I didn’t attack you the moment you got in; as you spent those few moments gawking at my office.”
I shrugged. “Impressive enough but in my opinion not a very good job.”
I looked at him suspiciously. Is this another trap so he can jump down my throat again? He seemed amused though, not angry. I decided to go ahead anyway.
“Yes, really.” I looked distastefully at the monstrous desk.
“What would you do differently?”
“Well, for starters, I’ll get rid of that monstrosity you call a desk.”
He gasped. “What? My desk? Do you know how much this desk costs? Besides, it’s a tactic designed to intimidate and command presence.”
“I figured. I don’t care how much it costs, it’s hideous and you don’t need it. You command enough presence as it is.”
I cringed as I realized what I just did. I just paid him a compliment. Darn! He was smiling; the arrogant bastard. I ignored his smile and kept glaring at him.
“Interesting. What else have you got? I’m listening.”
I stood up to better access the office. I’m in my element, confident in my skin and in my abilities. “I’ll get rid of this carpet and……”
“I love this carpet.”
“The color is too dull, I’m aiming for a lighter, brighter color.” I walked to where the table and chairs are set. “Then, I’ll re-arrange this whole space to look more inviting. This……”
“What’s wrong with that space as it is?”
“It’s too close, too clustered. And will you let me finish my thoughts before interrupting me again?”
He smiled impishly. “Go right ahead, ma’am.”
My back was turned from him so I was able to roll my eyes. Now I’m ma’am, no longer lady?
“Thank you, kind sir.” I smirked. “Some of these paintings have got to go, there are too many. Another tactic meant to intimidate?” I looked back at him.
“You got that right.”
I laughed. “You’ve got this intimidation thing right down to a science.”
“Is it working?” I was startled to hear his voice right behind me.
I turned to him. “Not really. Did you think it was?”
“I wouldn’t have minded.” He smiled.
I watched him suspiciously. I really like that smile, it transformed his whole face and made him seem friendlier, more inviting. Plus, it does things to my weary heart. Was he flirting with me? That’ll be a very surprising turn-about. I decided to ignore him, while keeping my unruly heart under check.
I continued with my analysis. “I like the spaciousness of this office and I’ll like to enhance that. Give it a freer, more welcoming atmosphere. We’ll have to change the wall color, put up something warmer. You want to make your clients feel welcome, not intimidated.”
He smiled at that. “Okay.”
“Okay?” I looked at him incredulously.
“You’ve got me convinced and I can’t wait to see the picture you painfully painted for me. Let me get your estimate for the contract by the end of the week. And don’t be late next time.”
I was overwhelmed. “Wow, thank you!” I beamed. “I promise I’ll deliver on time.”
He put his hands in his pocket. “Good. And keep in mind you’re working with the whole building, not just in my office.”
“Really?” I almost hugged him in ecstasy before checking myself.
I clapped happily, giddy with happiness like a child. I was in design heaven.
“Now that that’s settled, let’s get down to what has been on my mind since you snapped at me earlier.”
He led me to a chair, urged me to sit down and he sat opposite me.
“And what’s that?” I asked.
“Would you go out to dinner with me tonight?” he squeezed my hand.
A jolt of feeling went through my hand and I frowned. I do not need this right now, I thought. I withdrew my hand from his.
“I’m afraid that’s impossible.”
‘Why is that?” he didn’t look the least bit ruffled.
“I don’t fraternize with my clients.”
“It’s just a harmless dinner, and we are two adults that know what we are doing.”
“Even so. It is a rule of mine, and I don’t intend to break it.”
“That’s too bad. I find you really fascinating. I bet you’ll change your mind though, once you see how charming I can get.” He gave me a pointed look.
“Don’t hold your breath, Mr. Daniel. I wouldn’t bank on me changing my mind if I were you.”
“We’ll see about that.” He stood up. “So, I’ll expect to hear from you before the week runs out.”
“No problem. Thank you so much for the opportunity.”
He gave me an enigmatic look, and my knees turned to jelly. This is so not happening. “Don’t disappoint me.” he said.
I stood up, grabbed my bag and headed to the door as fast as my legs could carry me. My heart was beating erratically and I had to get out from the influence of those eyes, that smile and that deep, dark voice. I was just about to turn the knob when the voice called my name. I looked back.
“See you around.” He smiled confidently, his eyes twinkling.
I nodded, and ran for my dear life.