Click here to read Episode 1
My new place of work was on the ground floor of a shopping complex painted white. A boutique with tinted glass door.
There was a catering shop on the second floor of the building and a jewelry shop on the topmost floor. The complex was already bustling with activities. A young girl swept the veranda on the second floor. Another cleaned the windows with a brush. A woman came out of the jewelry shop followed by another woman decked with gold.
I stopped in front of the boutique. A lady in a black t-shirt and blue jeans came out with a mop bucket.
‘Good morning.’ I said, trying to impress her with a fake British accent.
She smiled and bowed slightly. ‘Good morning ma’am. You are welcome to Betty’s boutique. Please come in and take a look at what we have.’
I raised my hand. ‘I’m not here to buy anything. I have an appointment with the owner of this place.’
‘Oh…she is not here yet. But you can come in and wait for her.’
She led me into the boutique and past the clothes lined at different sections. I gasped when I saw the prices of some of the gowns.
Two doors stood at the rear end. She led me through one of the doors. Two ladies sat, staring at the screen of a laptop and talking in whispers. Another lady typed quickly on a desktop in front of her. They gave me a curtsy ‘good morning’ and returned their attention to whatever they were doing. The lady who brought me to the office led me to an empty seat at the corner and left the room.
Bored, I scrolled down my facebook newsfeed. Nothing interested me. I swiped to my Instagram app and followed an update on instablog.
Few minutes later, the owner arrived and again I was led into another office. There was nothing special about this office except that it was more spacious than the first and there was a sofa by the window.
The lady behind the table was not who I imagined to meet. She looked like she had just stepped out of her teens, somewhere between 20 and 21. It was my first time meeting her. We had only communicated via phone calls and e-mails and never for once had I guessed I was dealing with a lady that young.
My first thought was, why should I work for her? I’ll be thirty in a couple of months for goodness sake. If my aunt who had connected me with Betty had not withheld this vital information surrounding the age of my boss, I wouldn’t be here taking orders from one small pickin. If we were in Akure, Betty would call me ‘Aunty Tinuke.’.
‘Tinuke, Why do you want to work for me?’ She asked, staring at me behind her cute spectacles. I would not use the word ‘beautiful’ to describe her looks but money had sure done a good job to her oblong face.
I was dumbfounded. After the phone interview, she had asked me to resume work. Why didn’t she tell me there was another interview I had to prepare for?
She leaned forward. ‘Relax. Aunty Tope already told me how hardworking you are. She said you helped your mother build the family’s pure water business. I admire that. But I still want to know why you want to work here.’
I sighed. ‘I guess.. I mean…I believe I will gain experience here.’
She smiled. ‘How much are you willing to be paid?’
I frowned. I had never been asked that kind of question before. ‘Anything.’
‘If I say 10,000 naira.’
I shook my head. ‘I mean any reasonable amount ma.’
‘50,000 naira is what we offer our sales representatives.’
Sales what? But Aunty Tope said the position was for a Boutique Supervisor. What was this girl saying again. ‘Please what’s my position here?’
‘Sales representative. You’ll sell clothes to customers and assist in pulling customers in.’
I wanted to stand up and leave. But the thought of returning to Akure, back to my old life and back to Kunle kept me glued to my seat. ‘When do I start work?’
‘Monday. You have the weekend to get yourself ready for your new job. We run shifts here. 7:30 to 3p.m and 3p.m to 10p.m. This includes Saturday. You’ll also take online orders and follow up on deliveries. If you have any questions, talk to the head of the Sales.’
I left the boutique sad. Sales rep? I’ll be selling clothes? As I stepped out of the building, two ladies got down from a Toyota Camry and walked towards the boutique. I wished I had a magic wand to move all the money in their account to mine.
I stood by the road trying to figure out how to find my way back to Tola’s house. I pulled out my phone from my bag and called Tola.
‘How was your first day at work?’
‘More like an interview. I’m resuming officially on Monday. You won’t believe, I’m going to be selling clothes.
‘Ah! That’s serious. I thought it was for a Boutique Supervisor. Anyway, all things work together for good. I’m sure you’ll find a better job soon.’
‘I really hope so too. Tola, I can’t find my way back to your house.’
‘I thought as much. I’ve already contacted my friend Mercy. She lives behind the complex. I’ll call her now. She’ll be there any minute from now.’
‘Thank you Tola. Have a safe trip back.’
I ended the call and returned to the entrance of the complex. More cars were parked in front of the complex. I memorized the names of the cars, while I played a small drama in my head.
If you could own three of these cars, which would they be?
I smiled and pointed to a red KIA. One. My gaze rested on a Prado. Two. I was still debating between two other cars I liked when a white Toyota Corolla pulled into the parking lot and a small pretty lady got down from the back seat. I immediately sensed it was Tola’s friend. She brought out her phone and dialed a number, her eyes scanning the park. My phone rang. I waved at her.
‘Hi, are you Tinuke.’ Fluent accent. Was there a place in Lekki where people took lessons to speak like this?
‘Yes, I am. Mercy?’
She nodded and led me to the car. I stared at her mouth all through the ride home. Mercy was a walking dictionary. It wasn’t like she was trying to impress me and her diction wasn’t forced too. Her words flowed seamlessly. I could listen to her the whole day and not get bored. Right there, I looked up two words I had never heard in my life. Acrid and besmeared.
When we got to Tola’s place, she paid the cab guy and we continued talking as we walked into Tola’s flat.
‘Mercy, what do you do for a living?’ I asked. She was serving jollof rice into a flat plate.
‘Really? That would never have crossed my mind. I thought you worked in one of these big offices with posh chairs and glass doors.’
Mercy laughed. ‘Can I ever work in that kind of environment?’
‘We are talking about fat salary here.’
We carried our food to the living room. Electricity was out and the heat almost unbearable. She placed her food on the table and drew the curtain aside. It made no difference. The air was still. I reached for two hand fans under the center table and gave one to her. We moved between fanning ourselves and eating our jollof rice.
‘Not everything is about money Tinuke.Even if I’m going to be paid half a million naira in one of the big firms you talk about, I won’t exchange it for what I do now. I am at the center of God’s will and that’s what matters. Teaching those kids give me joy. Now that we are on holidays, I miss them and I can’t wait to resume work.’
I smiled. ‘It’s because you’ve not seen a job that pays big money. You can’t reject something like that.’
Mercy smiled. ‘I rejected two offers with payment in dollars. When I returned from Switzerland after my masters, I got offers with two foreign agencies.’
‘That is unbelievable! How could you reject something like that?’
‘I know exactly what God wants me to do and I’m simply walking in it. Until God directs my heart to something else, I’m staying right in his purpose.’
To hell with purpose. Money is purpose. ‘I don’t know what to say.’
Tola returned that night from her trip with sharwama and suya. How I finished two packs of sharwama after the efo and semovita I prepared that evening surprised me. Mercy didn’t touch any of the things Tola brought.
She shook her head and said, ‘It’s late. Besides, I just finished eating two wraps of semo few hours before you arrived.’
Tola pleaded with her to spend the night with us. When it was time to sleep, Mercy placed the extra mattress on the floor.
I was on the bed watching some Instagram videos when Mercy stood up and left the room. I checked the time. 1 a.m. I had been watching instagram videos for three hours?
I stood up to use the restroom when I heard Mercy’s voice from the living room. I peeped to find her kneeling in front of the center table, a bible opened in front of her. She was praying in tongues.
I was suddenly agitated. Who does Mercy think she is? All these holier-than-thou sisters. They are all fake. She knew her purpose. She wouldn’t eat with us because it was late. She stood up at exactly 1a.m to pray.
‘Rubbish!’, I hissed.
She would soon get tired. I have been there several times, praying all through the night and screaming my lungs out in church with Kunle.
It suddenly occurred to me that I had never prayed alone in my room for more than ten minutes. Kunle had been my fire and now that fire was gone. I felt empty as I climbed the bed beside Tola who was already fast asleep.
What had happened to me since I gave my life to Christ the year I graduated from secondary school? God had been so real to me. Where did I miss it? I imagined the Holy Spirit steaming mad, ready to throw me into the hottest part of hell. But I didn’t care anymore.
On Sunday morning, Kunle called again. We were on our way to Tola’s church. I decided to pick his call this time.
‘Hello Brother Kunle.’
‘You know I am the mouthpiece of God. if I say anything, it will come to pass. But because I love you, I’ll control myself.’
In another era, I’d have been horrified by those words. ‘Kunle, you should be in church now.’
‘Did you just call me Kunle?’ He barked.
‘Tinuke, Yesterday, in my place of agonizing prayers, God reminded me that together we are going to move mountains and change the world for him. Please, come home and let’s serve God together.’
God forbid. ‘I’m fine here. I have started work.’
‘Can you remember what happened to Judas when the love of money ate him up and he betrayed Jesus? The devil entered into him and he killed himself.’
‘What are you insinuating?’
‘Get back here before it is too late.’
‘When will you get it that this relationship is over. We are done.’
‘When Elijah made a declaration-‘
‘ I have to go now. We are already at the church.’
I ended the call. Tola glanced at me and smiled as she pulled into the church carpark.
‘Brother Kunle loves you. Tinuke, don’t do this to this brother.’
I hissed. Tola laughed and turned off the engine. As I climbed down, a dark Land Cruiser glittering in the genial sun sped into the church and pulled up beside us. Two slender ladies stepped down. They were every shade classy and strikingly beautiful. One of the ladies in a blue flowing gown with a colourful fascinator pinned to her hair smiled and came around to greet us while the other lady cat-walked into the church with an effortless saunter.
‘How are you?’ The lady said as she hugged my friend. Her words sounded like musical sounds. Something like d-m-d.
While she talked to Tola, I didn’t pay attention to her beautiful skin, but rather her long dark wavy hair that flowed down her shoulders. Could that be her real hair or was it fixed? She smiled warmly at me before heading for the auditorium.
I ended up sitting beside her. I felt so small and wished the usher had directed me to another seat. Would she notice that the dress I wore was Aba made?
Whatever the Pastor was saying didn’t make any sense to me. My eyes were glued to her fingers as she tapped quickly on her ipad, jotting down the scriptures the Pastor was calling out. The back of her palm was so smooth I longed to caress them against my face. Her earrings glittered. It had to be pure diamond. Her necklace sat gallantly on her flawless neck. I wondered if she had a nice boutique like my boss.
Poverty was a bastard, I concluded. I was sure she’d never hawked anything in her life or even trekked more than a mile. I made up my mind to strike up a conversation with her after church. Didn’t I read somewhere that if you want to fly like the eagles, you must flock around them?
At the end of the service, the youth group members met at the gallery for a meeting. I sat with other young adults but this time I made sure I was far from those two rich ladies. Wale stood in front of us. It was then I realized, my friend’s fiancé was the Youth President.
‘Good morning, brothers and sisters. I hope you enjoyed today’s service.’ Wale smiled, his gaze fixed on the small gathering. ‘I called for this meeting because this is the beginning of a new quarter. We are all aware that every quarter comes loaded with new activities. Our plans for last quarter were accomplished. I’m so glad about the turn out for the street evangelism. The Lord reward your labour of love.’
‘Amen.’ The youths chorused.
He glanced briefly at a piece of paper in his hand. ‘We have three activities for this quarter. The singles meeting with the Senior Pastor comes up next week Saturday. Then we have the outreach to the motherless home. We’ve been talking about that since the beginning of the year and finally, our annual Youth hangout.’
Some of the members whooped. Others clapped.
Wale grinned. ‘Last year’s hangout was wonderful. This year will be glorious. Brethren, we need money to carry out these activities. The proposed budget has been distributed among the various cells. Your cell leaders will hint you on the amount allocated for your cell. Where is Bro Sogo, Bro Paul and Sister Dami?’
Two brothers raised their hands. A lady waved.
‘Yes, there they are. Please let the cash start rolling in as quickly as possible. Secondly, don’t forget our night vigil coming up at the end of the month. It’s beautiful when we pray together.’
Wale cleared his throat and thrust his hands into his pocket. ‘Guess who we have here with us today.’
Three brothers jumped to their feet and began to dance in front of a man who had his head bowed. When he raised his head, the brothers began to clap in his face.
Wale grinned. ‘The PH.D holder is back. Let us welcome Brother Patrick back to church.’
Thunderous claps. Standing ovation. The brothers continued to dance in front of him as he sauntered to the front. When they returned to their seats, Wale hugged Patrick, pulled away, hugged him again and slapped him on his back.
A lady rushed to the front with a chair and placed it in front for Patrick. Wale glanced from Parick to the lady, pretending to be annoyed. Patrick smiled and sat down. He crossed his legs.
Wale faced the lady. ‘I’ve been standing here since and you did not even think to offer your President a seat.
Everyone burst into laughter. The lady apologized, a broad smile on her face. Tola stood up and carried her chair to the front for her fiancé to sit. The youth clapped and shouted.
Wale stopped her. ‘Don’t worry. I was just teasing her.’
‘You must sit down.’ Tola said, rolling her eyes playfully at him.
Wale moved closer. ‘You know I don’t like sitting while making an address.’
Some ladies jumped to their feet shouting ‘sit!’ The brothers too joined in the chant.
By this time, most of us were laughing with tears in our eyes.
Patrick pulled the chair closer to his. ‘Presido, sit down.’
Wale was not ready to give in. He faced Tola. ‘Where will you sit?’
‘There are more chairs over here!’ A sister at the back shouted.
Wale gave up and sat beside Patrick. The two brothers looked at each other for a moment and began to laugh.
I had never been in a church gathering with so much warm ambience. It was all strange to me.
If Kunle were here, he would be so angry and walk out of the meeting, dragging me with him. Afterwards he’d give me a fifty minutes lecture on ‘The perils of bringing the world into the church.’
Finally, the noise died down and all attention was focused on Patrick. He wasn’t as attractive as Wale. No broad chest, no beards, no piercing eyes but in his ordinariness, something radiated from within that made you want to know him more.
‘I’m so happy to be back home. I missed Nigeria and I missed the people of God.’
Wale glanced at him. ‘We are sorry we couldn’t fly over for your convocation.’
He smiled. ‘I clearly understand. I got all your messages on the group platform. That was more than enough. Thank you for your support and prayers.’
Wale stood up. ‘Brethren I present to you Doctor Patrick Asemota.’
Hugs. Handshakes. More laughter.
‘There is a welcome party at my father’s residence this evening. You are all invited.’ Patrick said, as he returned to his seat.
Wale turned to me. I froze. What was he going to do now?
‘We have a new member in our midst. Her name is Sis Tinuke. Let us welcome her.’ I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me as I stood amidst hugs and handshakes.
Why did I wear flat shoes? High heels gave me a certain kind of confidence, one that I needed badly here. Two sisters raised a song and the others joined in. There were more handshakes, more smiles and I gradually relaxed.
And then it happened. I met the man who would later throw me into the mud, roll me over like dough on a chopping board and with a table knife patiently chip off caked mud from my skin and feed each piece to me and afterwards force me to say, ‘This tastes better than chocolate.’ He was the right hand man of the devil.
‘Welcome.’ He grinned. I shook his outstretched hand.
In those few seconds, I found myself moved by his appearance. Dark brown eyes framed by well-shaped brows. The irresistible calmness that sat on his beautiful face disturbed me greatly. There was something mysterious about his unspoken words, something that got you curious, that made you want to dig and find out what held him together.
‘You finished from FUTA?’ he asked.
I shook my head. He let go of my hand. My eyes followed him to his seat and when he sat down, our eyes locked and he smiled. Who for goodness sake was he?
After we dispersed, I didn’t see him again. He disappeared into thin air. Distracted by the sight of the lady I planned talking to after church, I walked over to where she stood by her car, eyes glued to her phone. My racing pulse was calmed by her smiles. But then, I was suddenly speechless.
I found my voice again. ‘I am Tinuke.’
She folded her hands. ‘I know that. You were introduced at the meeting.’
‘Oh. So nice of you to remember.’ What else do I say. ‘I got into Lagos recently.’
’That’s good. We should hang out sometime. My name is Funmi. Can I have your contact?’
I didn’t expect this to happen so fast. I punched my number on her phone. The lady she had come to church with was now standing beside her.
‘Susan, Meet Tinuke .’
‘Hi.’ Susan said and turned to Funmi. ‘We have to go the airport now. My dad will be landing anytime soon.’ Funmi hugged me before stepping into the back seat. A man, I supposed was their driver, drove the car out of the compound.
I was quiet all the way home. So many thoughts ran through my mind. I wanted my own car and an apartment. But the cost was just too much. How do I get another job so quickly?
‘How much did you get this car?’
Tola didn’t respond immediately. I thought she didn’t hear me and wanted to ask again.
My eyes widened. ‘Is it that expensive?’
She ignored me and turned on the stereo before facing the road. I fell into a sour mood.
Funmi called that evening as I sat in the living room, watching a movie. Tola had gone for cell meeting but I had stayed back. I was not in the mood for another round of church activity.
‘I’m hanging out with some friends this Friday. Want to come?’ Funmi asked.
‘Sure.’ I answered without thinking.
‘Ok then. I’ll send you the address.’
‘Thank you.’ The smile died as quickly as it had come.
I jumped to my feet and ran into the room. What was I going to wear?
I opened my box, rummaging through every item in the box. Frustrated that I couldn’t find a befitting dress to wear, I sighed and sat on the bed. Why didn’t I just tell her I had an engagement scheduled for that day? Which kind wahala be this?
‘Tola, please can you lend me 10,000 naira.’ I asked as we dressed up for work the following morning.
Tola pulled out a handbag from the wardrobe and reached inside for an envelope. There were crispy one thousand notes inside. She counted ten pieces and gave them to me.
‘Thank you so much.’ I hugged her, almost screaming in excitement. She chuckled.
New clothes were supplied to the boutique that morning. My colleagues and I began to tack the price tag to the new arrivals. N30,000. N22,000. N40,000. N15,000. How could someone pay so much for a dress like that?
After work, I decided to check other boutiques for an affordable dress. In one of the boutiques, I saw a lovely cream dress that my eyes couldn’t tear away from. When I touched it, I knew immediately that I couldn’t let it go. The material was soft and fluffy. Then I saw the price tag. N40,000.
Where do I get that kind of money? I had only 15,000 naira in my account. If I added the money Tola gave me, it still wouldn’t be enough to purchase the dress. I really wanted it. I picked up my phone and called my mother.
‘Mum, please I need some money. I promise I’ll return it once I receive my salary.’
She hesitated. ‘How much are we talking about?’
‘Ah, where do you want me to see that kind of money? I just sent finished paying your brother’s WAEC fees.’
‘Just send what you can, please.’
She paused. ‘I’ll send 30,000 naira.’
‘Thank you mum! I love you.’
‘I love you too. How are you coping with your new job?’
I stepped out of the boutique. ‘Fine. How’s the factory?’
‘My dear, Baba Ranti has started his own pure water factory. It’s getting more competitive by the day. Sales has been a little slow but we are pushing it. We need another truck.’
‘Mum, when I get settled properly, I’ll send money home.’
The next day, I walked out of that boutique with my dress. Then I stopped by a beauty shop to pick a perfume and eye shadow palette. I also got a foundation and some wipes, By time I stepped out of the shop, I remembered I needed a pair of shoes and bag but I haf barely 5k left in my account.
How much does a good bag cost? What about a pair of shoes? How do I survive the rest of the month?
My head ached so badly that I had to stop by a Pharmacy on Tola’s street to purchase some pain killers.
Click Here to read Episode 3
Read: The Pastor’s wife