Osagie and Blessing Daodu sat on the sea sand beneath the tall coconut tree, wrapped in each other's arms. The sea breeze cooled their skin and refreshed their minds. They were glad that they had allowed their children to convince them to celebrate their birthdays at Takwa Bay beach. They had hesitated at first, but had succumbed after several days of enticement and sweet talk.
|As Deep As The Sea|
He and his wife were birthday mates; born in September, the twentieth to be precise. It had always been a pleasure to celebrate their birthdays together, be it at an organized party in their home with friends and family or at a restaurant with their children and a few family members who could make it. But this time around, their children suggested a beach-hang-out. No friends, no relatives, just them and the plan had turned out better than they anticipated.
"I prefer this beach to others I have been to," Blessing's gaze was fixed on the roaring waves.
"Same here," he squeezed her hand, "It is not crowded and every group here seem to have their own privacy."
She nodded in agreement.
"We will come back."
She turned to meet his gaze. He was smiling. She and her husband rarely take time off from their busy schedule. It will be a miracle if they could find time to relax at a place like this, without thinking of work, the children or anything else.
"I will love that."
"I know. We need a break."
"Yes, we do," she leaned into him. He kissed her lightly on the cheek and sighed.
"I think we should head back."
A frown creased his brow, "Why?" He was comfortable where he was. He wasn't ready to return to their shade.
"It is almost six."
" Promise said all the boats will leave by six," Blessing looked at her husband.
She nodded. His frown deepened. A boat had brought them to the beach and they had been told that a boat will take them back. It had not been a fun-journey. The driver was too rough for his taste. Another boat ride wasn't something he was looking forward to. He got up and helped his wife to her feet.
"I don't think I want to be stranded on this beach."
She chuckled and held her fifty-year-old husband by the waist and they headed back to their shade.
They met Promise, their first daughter, arranging their picnic baskets.
"Did you enjoy your long work?" She smiled at them.
"Yes we did," Osagie sat on one of the beach chairs.
"Your father and I plan to come here once in a while," she winked at her husband.
"That's great!" The excitement in her eyes warmed their hearts. "Both of you need to take time off work and relax."
Osagie cleared his throat. He knew his daughter was right, but, he and his wife had spent the best of their years to establish a textile company. When one ran a business for so many years, it was hard to take a vacation.
"We are thinking about it," she assured her.
"Good, I am glad to hear that," she returned her attention to the coolers and baskets she was arranging into a big bag.
Her parents had been running a company of their own for as long as she could remember. The textile company her parents owned had fifty staff members and they produced quality local fabrics. Business had been topsy turvy over the years, but they had been able to feed, clothe and shelter her and her siblings. Hence, they had been able to send them to school.
Recently, her father had bought a five-bedroom bungalow from a friend and this had eased the burden of paying rent annually. He had also bought a new car, and this had made his other car, a white Toyota Camry 2004, available for her and her siblings to use.
"Where is Prince and Gift?"
Her mother's voice broke into her thoughts.
"Prince has gone to secure a boat for us and Gift said something about tagging along."
"Are you done?" Her father lifted himself up, "I don't want to be stranded here."
Promise looked up at her dad and burst out laughing.
Gift returned and informed them that the boat had been secured. She helped her elder sister to carry some of their picnic baskets and coolers. They all left the shade and headed straight for the exit.
An hour later, they alighted from the boat. They found their car, a black SUV Jeep, along the roadside. Prince paid the guy who had helped them to watch over it. They all got into the car and headed home.
"Mum, dad, I hope you enjoyed yourselves," Gift glanced back at her parents. They smiled and nodded.
"This is one of the benefits of living in Obalende, we will soon be home, unlike people heading towards the mainland, I don't envy them at all," Prince grinned. Gift rolled her eyes, her brother liked bragging about things that she considered unnecessary.
"When are you leaving for Abuja?" Gift addressed her elder sister.
"In two weeksâ€™ time."
"Once you are through with camp-things, I will like to visit. I hope they give you a cool place to stay."
"Busy body!" Prince chided.
"What's your own?" She eyed him.
"Will you visit if they post her to one of those remote villages?"
Gift hissed and decided not to respond. Her family rarely travelled, except during the Christmas holiday. They sometimes travelled home to Esan Central to visit her grandparents. But, they don't spend more than a week there. She had never been to any other part of Nigeria and now that her elder sister had been posted to the capital city for her NYSC programme, she would visit her as much as possible. She hoped to be posted to Jos, Port Harcourt or Abuja when she graduated in three yearsâ€™ time. Those were the parts of Nigeria she had been longing to visit since she was a child.
"Don't mind your brother, you can visit whenever you want."
"Thank you Promise, " she smiled at her sister and stuck out her tongue at her elder brother.
Prince eyed her and concentrated on the road. His younger sister was a pain in the neck. He avoided her at school, but whenever they were home on vacation, he had to endure her presence. As far as he was concerned, last borns were pests. The sooner he graduated, the sooner he could leave home and start his own life. He had two sessions more before he completed his tertiary education.
Promised closed her eyes and leaned back on the leather car seat. She had never been to Abuja. Since she had been posted, she had googled about Abuja almost every day, trying to find out as much as she could about the place. She wondered where her place of primary assignment would be. She doesn't mind teaching a bunch of students but she would prefer serving in a communications company, be it telecoms or any media houses.
'God, you know my heart. You know my thoughts and desires. But not my will, let your will be done in my life,' she said a prayer within her.
Prince drove into their compound at exactly 8 p.m. Promise and her siblings carried all the baskets, coolers, mats and sheets into the house, while their father shut and locked the gate. His wife waited for him and they went into the house together. It had been a good day.
Promise stood under the torture of the morning sun and tried to get a cab to work. Unlike Lagos, cab fares in the capital city was fairly cheap. She would have opted for a bus, but she wasn't accustomed to the buses and their routes. Taking a cab to work and back was the best she could do at the moment.
She was headed for Government Secondary School in Garki. She had been a bit disappointed when she found out that she was going to be teaching. How she wished she was posted to NTA or somewhere else.
'Where are all these crazy cabs going?' She said to herself. She had been waving, but they didn't stop. She would get to work late if she didn't get a cab on time.
The self-contained apartment she shared with three other corpers was a stone throw from the bus-stop. She met the girls when she arrived at the camp and had found out that their place of primary assignments was also in some Secondary Schools in Garki.
The schools they were all posted to had made no provision for accommodations for them. They had gathered the little money they had and rented a self-contained apartment in Area 1, Garki.
The landlord had been lenient enough to collect four hundred thousand naira for a full year. The other houses they had surveyed were more expensive and their owners wanted two years rent. Where would they get that kind of money from?
The money she had left might sort her out for the rest of the month, but she hoped that the government would pay them promptly and not delay their monthly allowance. The Secondary School she had been posted to had made no provision for monthly stipends. She wondered if the principal was siphoning the Corpers' fund allocated to the school and transferring it into his own pocket.
If she ran out of cash, she might have to call home. That would be her last resort. She doesn't want to disturb her parents with her needs. They had a company to run and two extra mouths to feed. Her siblings were a handful. She hoped to get a good job after her service year. She would be able to support her parents and also take care of her siblings. She wanted her parents to eat the fruits of their labour before they began to age drastically.
An hour later, she walked into the school compound and sighted the principal, Mallam Bature, speaking to some of the corpers. Every morning, he stands at the school gate immediately after the assembly and any corper that came late was given a stern lecture about punctuality and discipline.
'Doesn't he ever get tired?' She groaned and joined the others. The school had made no provision for accommodations and monthly stipends for them, yet, they want them to resume work early. That was slavery! According to her anyway.
Promise went straight to the staff room the moment the principal was through with them. She needed to go through her time-table and make some changes. She cannot afford to teach every single day of the week. She needed time to sort out the students' notes, mark their assignments and prepare questions for the mid-term test. Why they asked her to take the students English and Literature was beyond her. Was it because she graduated with a second class upper in Mass Communication?
The staff room was almost empty. She greeted the few teachers around and walked over to her corner. She cleaned her dusty wooden table and chair. She wondered why the capital city was so dusty. She had been told that it was worse during the harmattan season.
"Miss. Daodu, you are looking good this morning."
Promise looked up at the person addressing her. It was one of the male teachers. On her first day, he had assumed that she was a Muslim because of her surname. She had to explain to him that her grandfather was a Muslim, but her father had converted to Christianity.
"Good morning Mr. Usman," she tried to smile, but it barely reached her dark eyes.
He leaned over her table, "You are looking smart and beautiful," his eyes seemed to glitter. She wondered what was beautiful about her khaki trousers and white tee shirt. Was it the khaki face cap that was deceiving him or the khaki jacket? If he was trying to warm up to her, he came at the wrong time.
"Thank you," she forced the words out and concentrated on the books she had placed on the table.
"Do you know that I am also an English and Literature teacher in this school?"
She placed a hand on her forehead. She realized that he was bent on conversing with her, regardless of her disinterest.
"Yes, if you have any problems with the students or your lesson notes, I will help you out," he beat his hand on his chest.
"Oh okay, thank you."
He smiled at her, revealing a set of teeth that had gone brown. She blinked in surprise and adjusted her face cap.
"I have to go, I have a class to teach," he waved and walked away. She made a sigh of relief. 'Finally, peace at last!' She said to herself.
Promise returned home that day at about three in the afternoon. She felt as if she had been toasted like bread in the hot afternoon sun. She needed a cold shower and would probably warm the remaining vegetable soup she had kept in the fridge and eat it with pondo yam. Maybe making garri will be faster. She was very hungry.
Sweat broke out all over her when she realized that she had forgotten to take her house key to work that day. She had changed bags and didn't remember to take the key out of the other bag. 'What kind of nonsense is this?' She mused and leaned on the wooden front door. She began to dial her room-mates' numbers one after the other.
One of them told her that she wasn't coming home straight from work. She had a few places to go to. Another told her that she wasn't returning home that day and the third girl told her that she was on her way home but was stuck in traffic.
Promise pulled off her khaki jacket and removed her face cap. Why did she forget to take her key to work? 'What were you thinking about you small girl?' She questioned herself and debated whether to check if any of her neighbours were around.
There were six self-contained apartments in the compound, the other five were occupied by a couple with their children, two sets of live-in-lovers, a bachelor, and four male youth corpers.
She decided to sit at the door and prayed that the traffic subsided. She wasn't in the habit of badging in on her neighbours. She would rather remain pleasant from afar than become over-familiar with them. Familiarity always brought contempt. Thirty minutes later, Kabira Danyaro walked up to dozing Promise.
She opened her eyes.
"Why did you forget your key?"
Promise got up, yawned and stretched. Kabira unlocked the door and they went in.
"I changed bags and forgot to take the house key."
Kabira shook her head and went straight to the kitchen. Promise sat on the bed and untied the ropes of her boots. She wondered if she should eat first and take her bath later.
"Are you the one who kept this vegetable here?" Her voice flowed into the room.
"Don't touch that soup! That is my lunch," she joined her room-mate in the kitchen.
"We will share it."
Kabira eyed her, "You made me come home, I was planning to buy some things in the market."
Promise groaned and opened the plate, "Look, see, the soup is small."
Kabira collected the frozen plate from her, "We will add water."
Her room-mate hissed.
"Please make garri, be a nice girl."
Promised eyed her. This was one of the challenges of living with someone.
"We will share the chilled can malt in my bag."
She brightened and plugged water, while her room-mate started to warm the soup. Sharing her lunch didn't seem like a bad idea anymore. A can of chilled malt in the afternoon heat would soothe her nerves. At least, her day seemed to be winding up well, regardless of the torturous start.
'Lord, I thank you. Today is really a day you have made. I sincerely rejoice,' she conversed with her maker with a smile pasted on her lips.
On her way to the canteen, the principal called out to her. She saw him standing beside a middle age woman under the mango tree. The tree was very fruitful. Whenever the fruits were ripe, the students and teachers would pluck them until none was left.
'What does this man want from me?' She said to herself and approached him.
"Good afternoon sir. Good afternoon madam."
The woman nodded and smiled a bit.
"Please help Mrs. Kufuaye to carry these bags to her car," Mallam Bature instructed her.
Promise groaned. 'What kind of man is this? Didn't he see any student around? Why did he call me? Why is this man always disturbing me?' She said within her and picked up the polythene bags at the foot of the tree. The weight of the bags made her to stagger a bit. 'My God! They are so heavy! Does this man think I am Super woman or Wonder woman? This is pure punishment.' She hissed and followed the woman to her car. She wondered what was in the polythene bags. She tried to peep but she was at a disadvantage due to the weight of the bags.
Mrs. Kufuaye unlocked and opened the boot of her car. Promise placed the polythene bags inside the boot and started to walk away.
She halted and turned around. 'What does she want now? I am hungry. I am tired. I have done what the principal wanted. I don't have time for all this nonsense.'
She nodded and approached her.
"What is your discipline?"
Promise sighed. 'Now what? What is her business? Why does she want to know what I read at school? What kind of trouble have I entered today?' She cleared her throat, "I studied Mass Communication."
The woman's expression brightened, "Really?"
She smiled, "I work at Yellow Tube Communications. We need people like you. Why don't you come and serve in our company?"
Promise's jaw dropped in shock. 'Did she just say that I should come and serve where she worked? I know Yellow Tube Communications, it is one of the best communications company in Nigeria and they pay their staff well. Is this really happening or am I dreaming? If I am dreaming, I don't want to wake up.' She blinked and stared back at the woman. She closed her mouth and opened them again.
The woman laughed, "I can influence your transfer. We need people like you... " She looked around,
"You are wasting your skills teaching in this school."
She nodded in agreement, "Yes, ma. You are right ma," her heart began to race. 'Is this really happening to me? God! God! God! Shame on me! Shame on you Promise. I have been grumbling since the principal called me. God have mercy on me. I am so sorry daddy.'
"I am not against Corpers teaching at schools, but I feel more of them should be given opportunities to serve where they are most needed."
"I believe so too ma."
The woman gave her a complimentary card.
"Yes, ma. Thank you ma."
Mrs. Kufuaye got into her car and drove away.
Promise removed her khaki face cap from her head and used it to fan herself. 'Abuja is so hot.' She stared at the card long and hard. 'God please give Mrs. Kufuaye the grace to get me out of here. Oh my! Oh my! Forgive me for grumbling and complaining. Oh Lord God! Promise! Promise! Promise! You! You! You!' She prayed and admonished herself. She bit at one of her fingers. This was exactly what she had asked God for before she left Lagos. 'Hey! Principal thank you for disturbing me! You can disturb me anytime you want. God, I will stop grumbling and complaining.'
She headed for the school canteen. She needed to eat, but her stomach felt full all of a sudden. Would she be able to eat? She was too excited to eat. God had answered her prayers. If it all worked out, she wouldn't have to disturb her parents at the end of the month. God was so good.
"You must celebrate your new transfer with us," Bolatito tapped Promise on the shoulder, "You can host us at Yahuza suya spot or Mama Cass."
"I hear you."
"How I wish I can also get a new place of primary assignment. I will be so happy," Kabira waved her hands in the air. Promise and Bolatito laughed at her comical display.
Adaeze hissed, "Stop fooling yourselves. God knows why we were all posted to schools to teach. Influencing your place of primary assignment is just like deviating from his plans."
They all stared at her, the jealousy in her tone wasn't lost to them all.
"I hope PHCN will give us electricity soon," Promise changed their topic of discussion. There had been light off since mid-day. They had decided to sit outside their apartment when they couldn't take the heat anymore.
"Now that you will be earning something aside from what the Federal government is paying us, you can at least buy a generator," Adaeze adjusted the stool she sat on.
"Adaeze!" Bolatito clapped her hands and faced her room-mate, "You want Promise to use all the money Yellow Tube gives her to buy a generator. You are very wicked," she eyed her.
"Please mind your business. I was addressing Promise and not you," Adaeze retorted.
Kabira signaled to Promise to remain quiet. They all knew Adaeze to be a trouble maker.
The bachelor living in the apartment opposite theirs drove into the compound.
"Hey! Bachelor is back!" Adaeze jumped to her feet and hurried away.
Kabira and Promise shook their heads. They all knew she had been longing for the man since they moved into the compound.
"That girl is acting so cheap," Bolatito hissed.
"Leave her alone," Kabira yawned.
"I am going to spoil her show tonight," Bolatito left them.
Bola ignored her and joined Adaeze who was chatting with the bachelor.
"Bola is looking for Adaeze's trouble."
"Leave both of them. They are both after the bachelor."
Kabira hissed. Her mission in Abuja was to serve her country and nothing else. She would rather allow a man to chase her than to throw herself at him.
"Shameless girls," she hissed again.
Promise watched her room-mates who were competing for the bachelor's attention. She doubted if she would date anyone during her service year. She would rather wait till she returned to Lagos, get a good job, then she would be ready for a serious relationship. The last relationship she was involved in started and ended at school. She wasn't ready for a repeat.
Promise walked into the Publications department and greeted everyone seated. The office was large and it was divided into five cubicles.
"You must be Promise Daodu, we have been expecting you," the only lady in the office shook hands with her.
"I am Maimuna Idris."
"Okay," she smiled at the woman who looked a little bit over thirty.
"This is Abubakar Sheu, Ogbonna Ilechukwu and Edet Uduak," Maimuna introduced her colleagues.
"It is nice to meet you all," she smiled at them.
"You are welcome," the men chorused.
"Our head of department has gone out. When he returns, he will see you."
"I will give you a tour around the office."
"Thank you," Promise followed her. She had not been sure how she would be received. She had not expected her new colleagues to be nice to her. She thanked God in her heart. Her service year was turning out to be perfect.
At the end of her first day at Yellow Tube Communications, Promise called her parents and informed them that she was no longer teaching in a Secondary school. They rejoiced with her and wished her well. She also called her siblings. Prince was elated and Gift was thrilled and reminded her of her plans to visit.
Promise wondered how Gift would cope with her roommates. The apartment was barely convenient for four girls to live in, a visit from her younger sister would cause chaos. She might have to stall her sister's visit until one or two of her room-mates decided to travel home. That was the best plan she could come up with at the moment. She was happy that things seemed to be working out in her favour. God was so good to her and she was eternally grateful.
Promise and her room-mates sat on the King-size bed playing a game of Ludo. It was a Saturday evening; rather than hang out at an eatery or a suya joint, they decided to remain indoors. It had been a busy week for them all, the weekend was a warm comfort to their tired bodies and minds.
"I am so glad that in the next two weeks we will be on vacation," Bolatito clapped her hands and lifted her shoulders in a dance-like motion.
"I am traveling home on the fifteenth of this month, I need to start preparing for Christmas," Adaeze scratched her scalp. The sooner she loosed her weave-on, the better. It was beginning to itch with vengeance.
Kabira hissed, "Both of you are lucky, my school won't be vacating until the twentieth of this month."
Bolatito patted her on the back, "Aww... Sorry. That means that you and Promise will have the apartment all to yourself."
"So? Is that supposed to console me or what?" Kabira hissed again.
Bolatito opened her mouth, but, the ringtone of Promise's phone interrupted her line of thoughts. She closed her mouth and concentrated on the game.
"Where is my phone?" She looked around and saw it on the table. She crawled away from the bed and reached out for it. She glanced at the caller I.D, it was Maimuna. She wondered why her colleague was calling. She hoped that it wasn't work related.
"Hi Promise, evening."
"Are you coming?"
"Coming?" She wondered what her colleague was talking about, "Coming for what?"
"H.O.D's wedding anniversary."
Promise sprang up to her feet. Her room-mates abandoned the Ludo game and focused on her.
"Is it today?" Her heart began to race.
"Yes, silly girl. Don't tell me that you have forgotten."
She placed a hand on her forehead, she had forgotten. How? Why? 'Silly girl!' She berated herself.
"Hello, are you still there?â€
"Yes, yes... I forgot."
"Really? Okay, the party is at his house. I will text you his address. Make sure you get there on time."
"I will be there, thanks."
"You are welcome."
Once her colleague hung up, she faced her room-mates who were staring at her, wondering what the phone call was all about.
"What?" Kabira picked up a pillow and held it close to her chest.
"Today is my boss' wedding anniversary and I forgot," she dropped her phone on the table.
Adaeze hissed, she had thought it was something important.
"I forgot to buy him a gift. I didn't even buy a wedding anniversary card." They felt sorry for her due to the frustration in her voice.
"Quit the drama girlfriend, you can always buy him a gift on Monday or whenever," Adaeze eyed her.
Bolatito frowned at her but decided to ignore her and focused on Promise.
"What am I going to wear?"
"Now you are speaking my language," Bolatito got off the bed and pushed her towards the wardrobe. Kabira threw the pillow at Adaeze and joined them.
"What is wrong with you?" Adaeze threw the pillow back at Kabira but she dodged it.
"What time is the party?"
Kabira glanced at the wall clock, "It is past six, we are going to be late."
"You are right, I haven't taken my bath today," Bolatito scratched a spot on her thigh.
"Go and take your bath. Do not delay us. We still need to pick what we are going to wear."
Promise stopped what she was doing and faced them, "Wait, wait, wait, what do you mean by 'we'?"
Kabira placed her hands on her waist and faced her, "Do you think that we are going to allow you to go to that party alone?"
"A Yellow Tube staff's wedding anniversary party for that matter," Bolatito added.
Promise folded her hands across her bosom. Her phone began to vibrate. She looked around for it and saw it on the table. She picked it up, it was a text message. She opened and read it.
Kabira and Bolatito looked at her.
"The party is at my boss' place and he lives in Maitama."
Kabira shrugged. The distance was not a problem.
"It doesn't matter; we will get there. I am going to take my bath," Bolatito walked out of the room.
Promise sighed, Maitama was far away from Garki. They would arrive at the party late, she hoped no-one will notice their arrival.
"Adaeze, why are you sitting down? Please don't delay us."
"Did I tell you that I want to go to the party?" She eyed her room-mate and hissed.
"Whatever," Kabira pulled out her box. She needed to select a special dress for the party.
Promise stared at all her clothes in the wardrobe. What was she going to wear?
Promise called Maimuna immediately she got to her boss' residence with her room-mates. The sound of music coming from the compound was very loud. The whole place seemed to be vibrating. Her colleague came out of the house and led them to the table tagged 'Publication department'. She introduced Promise's room-mates to their colleagues, Abubakar, Ogbonna and Edet. She also called three service boys who took their others and brought them their food and drinks.
Bolatito pinched Promise's hand.
"Sorry, just trying to get your attention," Bolatito winked at her.
"That was painful," Promise frowned at her.
"I am sorry."
Kabira tried not to laugh, but she could hardly suppress it. Bolatito could be a pain in the neck when one least expected it.
"Your boss' house is very big, he must be very wealthy," Bolatito grinned.
"I doubt if he got this house through his monthly salary, I think he is making extra cash through some other business," Kabira added.
Bolatito nodded in agreement, "Even though Yellow Tube pays well and all that, he must be earning more money somewhere else."
Promise shrugged again. She didn't want to talk about her boss. She doesn't care where or how he made his money. Her mind was concentrated on the fact that she had not bought him a gift. She hoped he wouldn't notice. She might try and get him a gift the following week. She hoped she won't forget again.
Abubakar winked at Kabira, "Do you mind joining me on the dancing floor?"
Her eyes widened with shock. She was surprised at his request. She had noticed the way he looked at her when they arrived, but, she had ignored the thought that he found her attractive.
"Please join me," Abubakar got to his feet and stretched out a hand. Kabira swallowed hard and took it. His fingers felt warm around hers. They both left the table and joined the crowd on the dancing floor.
Bolatito cleared her throat and hit Promise with her elbow. She pointed a warning finger at her annoying room-mate.
"Kabira has gotten herself a man. Sharp girl," Bolatito winked at her.
"Nothing is happening; they are just dancing."
"That is how it always starts."
Promise ignored her and beckoned to one of the service boys. She ordered another glass of chapman and gave the young man her empty glass.
"That is your fourth glass, too much of sugar is not good for your system."
"I am just twenty-five. My body can handle it."
"You are so on your own."
"I hear you."
The service boy brought Promise's drink. She thanked him and picked the glass of chapman from the tray.
"You should try this," she winked at Bolatito.
"No, thank you. I am watching my weight."
Promise chuckled and sized her room-mate up. Bolatito was very dark in complexion, but her skin glowed like a ceramic vase. All her expensive body creams and lotions were doing wonders. Her plump figure made her look a little bit shorter than her five feet seven inchesâ€™ height. She wasn't over-weight, but if she was careless, she could add weight faster than the speed of light.
Suddenly, she felt pressed. She tapped Maimuna on the palm and asked where the restroom was. Her colleague directed her to the guest quarters behind the mansion. Promise left their table and squeezed her way through the crowd. She found the quarters and located the restroom. On her way back, she met her boss.
"Good evening sir, happy anniversary sir," her heart began to race. She had not expected to meet him tonight. How she forgot to buy him a gift, she couldn't comprehend.
"Promise, how are you doing?"
"Fine, thank you sir."
"I hope you are enjoying yourself."
He sized her up, from hair to shoes. She noticed his intense gaze and felt uncomfortable. Why was he staring at her as if he had not seen her before?
"You look pretty. Seeing you without your Nysc uniform... You look prettier."
"Oh... " She blushed and looked away, "Thank you sir."
"Enjoy yourself, it's my party," he patted her on the shoulder and walked away.
Promised dug her fingers into her weave-on and tried to scratch her itchy scalp.
"That is so not lady-like."
She turned and saw Bolatito walking towards her.
"Are you stalking me?"
"No, but you are not the only one who was pressed."
"Yes," she reached out for her hand and pulled her along. Promise grumbled all the way to the restroom.
Dark clouds filled the sky. The rumbling sound of thunder made it hard to hear anything else. Promise stood with the crowd at the bus-stop and hoped to get a cab home before it started to rain.
"Corper, that man in that car is calling you," someone in the crowd tapped her on the shoulder and pointed to a black homer jeep packed a stone throw away from the bus-stop. She wondered who it was. She doesn't accept lifts from strangers. She debated whether to ignore him or go to see who it was.
Lightning struck and the roaring thunder followed. It began to rain and Promise ran towards the car.
"Get in, where are you heading to?"
Her jaw dropped when she saw her boss, Keshinro, at the driver's seat.
"Good evening sir."
She opened the door and got in, "Thank you sir."
He nodded, "Where are you headed?" He started the car and nosed into the road.
"Home... Garki, Area one."
"Okay, it's along my way."
She relaxed and beamed. She had been saved from two things; been drenched by the rain and spending more money on the inflated cab fare. She wondered why transporters always increase their fares whenever it rained.
"How are you enjoying working for Yellow Tube?" His husky voice cut through her thoughts.
"Well... It is okay."
"Hmmm... " His hazel eyes remained on the wet road.
"I hope I will be retained after my service year."
He smiled, "If you are very determined and hardworking, that won't be a problem."
Promise nodded and bit at her lower lip. It was her desire to work for a reputable communication company such as Yellow Tube after her service year. She would have the opportunity to travel round the world and see places she had only seen on the television and internet.
'God, please let them retain me after my service year. I would really like to work at Yellow Tube Communications Company.' She said a prayer within her.
"You are a beautiful young woman."
She turned to look at him and met his intense gaze. Her heart missed a beat, she looked away immediately. 'Why is he staring at me like that? My God! If looks could kill, I should have been burnt and dead by now.'
"How old are you?" His question interrupted her thoughts.
"I am... " She glanced at him, his eyes were fixed on the road, "I am twenty-five."
He smiled, "You are a full grown woman, old enough to make your own decisions," he met her gaze and winked at her. She looked away again.
'God please ease the traffic. Let us get home fast! I am not comfortable with the way my boss is staring at me. It is as if... Does he find me attractive?' She shook her head, 'Even if he does, he isn't the only man who have noticed how beautiful I am. For the love of God, he is married! I don't want to know the kind of games he thinks he is playing. I am not interested. I just want to go home.'
"Are you okay?"
"Hmmmm... " She glanced at him. Was he talking to her? What did he say?
"There is a big scowl on your face."
She came to the realization that she was frowning in an angry way.
"Oh! Sorry sir."
"What were you thinking about?"
"What is the name of your street?"
She rubbed the window with her palm and discovered that they were close to her place, "It is the street beside the library."
"Oh! Okay. I can see the library," he turned the car into the busy lane, "What number?"
Keshinro pulled over in front of a compound with the fence painted brown and cream.
"Thank you sir," she smiled at him and tried to opened the door, but it was locked.
She sighed and leaned back on the seat. 'Oh Lord God! Now what?'
"I am going to be straight with you. I like you. You are a very beautiful young woman and I will like to take care of you. If you agree to date me, I promise to be faithful and I expect the same from you."
Promise stared at her boss, shocked beyond words. She looked away and coughed. 'God get me out of this.'
"Sir, I ... I don't date married men, I am a born again Christian," she drew her hand bag closer.
Keshinro laughed a bit and placed a hand on her thigh, "I am also a Christian."
She pushed his hand away and glared at him, "Please don't touch me."
He sighed and started the car, "I will give you time to think about it. I want you to come with me to Paris for Christmas."
Promise got out of the car and closed the door. She half ran and half walked into the compound without bidding her boss goodbye.
'He is out of his mind! What is today's date?' She brought out her phone from her bag and checked the mobile calendar. Yellow Tube Communications Company would be closing down for the holidays in five daysâ€™ time. She would try and avoid her boss for the next few days. She would travel to Lagos and spend the holidays with her family.
'How old is he? Maimuna said he is forty. He must be going through mid-life crisis. How else could a married man who claimed to be a Christian ask her out? He is insane! Something is definitely wrong with this man.'
She found her way to her apartment and knocked. Kabira let her in. They were the only two corpers left in the compound. Everyone else had travelled home for the holidays.
She noticed that they had company. Abubakar was seated on the only chair in the room, eating a bowl of semovita with vegetable soup.
"Come and join me," he beckoned to her.
"No thank you. Enjoy yourselves."
She wondered if he was dating Kabira. Or were they just friends? Who cares? She would rather wait for her room-mate to open up to her instead of harassing her with questions about her private life. That was the least of her problems. What was she going to do about her boss?
'God, I need you to address this situation. Please get my boss off my back. Please God, please.'
Promise and Kabira locked their apartment and got into the cab waiting for them at the gate. The driver hurled their luggage into the boot of the car and headed for the airport.
"What time is your flight?"
"Four. When is yours?"
"Three," Promise leaned closer to the window and gazed out.
"I am so glad that I am heading back to Jos. A month in that city is totally worth it."
Promise looked back at her, "You are lucky. Yellow Tube is resuming in three weeksâ€™ time."
"I don't envy you at all."
Promise's phone began to ring. She checked the caller's ID, it was her boss. She glared at the phone. 'Why can't this man leave me alone? Why can't men take no for an answer? This man should stop stressing me.' She had succeeded in avoiding him for five good days. He had tried calling her a few times, but she refused to respond. He had sent her text messages concerning the Paris trip, but she had also ignored his messages. She had thought he would back off, but, this wasn't the case. The phone kept on ringing.
"Won't you pick your call?"
She shook her head and leaned closer to the window. She had been approached by married men in the past, but she had always said no. It was wrong to date a married man. It was against her faith and believes. It was also morally wrong. If she decided to have an affair with a married man, whoever she married would definitely cheat on her. Whatever one sow, one would reap.
Kabira stared at her. Promise was the closest to her among her room-mates. She had been acting kind of far-off and detached for the past few days. She hoped all was well with her. The holidays would definitely do her good. They all needed time off work. The past three months had been very demanding.
They arrived at the airport and the cab driver pulled their luggage out of the boot. Promise and Kabira hugged and went in different directions.
Promise located Aero Contractors counter and joined the short queue. Her phone began to ring again. She checked the caller's ID and hissed. The sooner she was out of Abuja, the better.
She heard her name.
She turned and looked around. Who was that?
"Promise... Hello... Over here! "
She saw someone waving his hand. She narrowed her eyes and saw a six-foot-tall broad shouldered fair skinned man standing at a distance, clad in a pair of white shorts and skin hugging black tee shirt. She swallowed hard, it was her boss.
'What sort of man is this? God where are you?'
He approached her and her heart did a somersault.
'God please come down. Come down now!'
"Heading back to Lagos?"
She nodded and avoided looking at him directly.
"Come with me to Paris. We will leave tonight and be back in two weeksâ€™ time. That leaves you a week to visit your family."
She met his intense gaze with a scowl.
"I know you like me too," he brushed a hand over her face. She backed away immediately, as if she had just been stung.
"Don't touch me," she eyed him and tried to still her racing heart. He was right, she did like him. She had been attracted to him since the first time they met. She was a sucker for fair, tall men. But he was married and he was fifteen years older than her. If he was still single, she would have waved off his age and dated him, but he wasn't.
"Promise, why do you want us to suffer? We like each other. We need to be together."
She threw a glance at the dwindling queue at Aero Contractors counter.
"I am falling in love with you. I want you. Every night... Thoughts of you fill my head. I can't sleep anymore. I am a mess... I feel like a teenager longing for his sweet heart," he reached out for her, but she stepped away from him and pointed a warning finger.
Keshinro ran a hand through his clean shaved head. He didn't know how else to convince her. If she refused to follow him to Paris, his holidays would be totally ruined. He might take his wife and children, but he won't be happy. This wasn't the first time he was cheating on his wife, but, this was the first time he was feeling this way for any woman.
Promise held on to her luggage. 'God, I am physically attracted to a married man. My service year will be completed in nine months. I don't know if I will be able to stay in Yellow Tube if my boss continues to harass me. Please help me God,' she prayed within her. She needed a solution fast!
A female voice announced the flight to Lagos. The sound of her voice filled the hall.
"That is my flight, I have to go."
"Promise," he reached out for her hand and drew her close. She gasped in surprise. Her luggage slipped from her hand and fell on the tiled floor. She tried to free herself but his grip on her tightened.
'What has gotten into this man?! He must be out of his mind. How can he hold me like this in public? He is married for Peter's sake. He is so shameless!' Her angry gaze drilled into his pleading stare.
"Promise, my love. Come with me to Paris."
"You are a married man! What is wrong with you? Your wife and children are at home and you are here holding unto what is not yours."
"Please, please give us a chance... I know you feel the same way about me."
"Cut the crap! I have had enough of this... This has to stop sir... Please leave me alone," she pushed him away, picked up her luggage and walked straight to Aero Contractors counter. She checked-in and was given her boarding pass.
Keshinro sighed heavily, turned around and headed for the exit.
The noisy sound of fireworks woke her up with a start. Promise got out of bed squinting her eyes. She staggered towards the window, pulled away the curtain and flung it open. Hot sun rays flooded her vision. She shielded her eyes with both hands and peeped to see what the noise was all about. A group of children were engaged in a battle and their only ammunition was fireworks. She cursed under her breath and shut the window.
"Merry Christmas!" Prince and Gift dashed into her room without knocking, bearing a tray of club-sandwich and a mug of steaming beverage.
She ignored them and returned to bed. She was bent on going back to sleep. She was tired and her bones ached. She had helped her mother to cook the other night. She had, had only three hours of sleep so far. She needed more.
"Promise, mummy sent us to give you your breakfast in bed," Gift approached her elder sister.
"I am not interested. I want to sleep," she pulled the blanket over her head.
She glanced at her brother and he shrugged. They placed the tray on a stool beside her bed and tip-toed out of the room.
"Why is she so tired?"
"She cooked with mum last night."
"So? She used to do that before."
"I guess the fact that she hasn't done it in a while is... I guess she is just tired."
"Hmmm... You women!" Prince snorted and headed for the dining room.
"And what is that supposed to mean?" Gift hurried after him.
Promise got out of bed again and shut the door. She heard everything her siblings said. She yawned and stretched. Why was she so tired? She walked back to the bed and picked up the tray of food. She wondered where her mother got the strength from to prepare breakfast after all the cooking the other night.
'God give me the strength to do what needs to be done when I am married. It will not be funny if I am too tired to take care of my husband and children. If my mum can do it, so can I.'
She bit into the sandwich. 'My God! This is heaven.' She took another bite and munched with relish. It was good to be back home. She wasn't looking forward to returning to Abuja. She hoped the remaining months of her service year will come to an end with speed.
She had not received any calls, texts or emails from her boss since she left him at the airport four days ago. It had been a relief, but, it had also scared her. She wondered if he would pay her back for rejecting him. What if he made her remaining months in Yellow Tube miserable? What if he doesn't stop disturbing her? She might quit and return to her first place of primary assignment. She doubted if she could stomach anymore harassment from him.
'God please take control. Please take perfect control. I need you now more than ever.'
Gift found her sister seated on a cane chair outside the house, munching at a piece of chicken.
Promised looked up at her and smiled.
"I guess all the hard work paid off after all."
She chuckled and sipped at her drink.
"Mum gave you free pass into the kitchen because you helped her to cook, lucky you."
"You should have joined us."
Gift placed a chair beside her sister and sat down, "I was watching a very interesting movie on dstv."
"Wow! The movie ended, but, the chicken fiesta has just begun."
Promise burst out laughing.
"I am coming with you to Abuja once you resume."
She stopped laughing.
"School isn't resuming until the end of the month. That gives me two weeksâ€™ maximum to explore Abuja."
She cleared her throat, "Wait... " She was the only one resuming work on the seventh of January. Her roommates would be resuming mid-month. She would have the apartment all to herself for a week.
"What?" She hoped her sister wouldn't stall her visit any longer.
"You can come with me to Abuja..."
"Hurray!" Gift hugged her sister in excitement.
"Okay, okay, you can let go now... Don't choke me, I have a purpose to fulfill on this earth."
Gift released her sister and started to dance.
"But, you can only spend one week. On your next visit, you can stay longer."
"No problem," she danced into the house.
Promise smiled and shook her head. Prince came out of the house in a hurry. He found his sister and settled on the seat beside her.
"Gift said she is coming with you to Abuja."
"When am I visiting?"
"Soon... " She sucked at the bone.
She faced him, "Just give me a call when you are ready and I will schedule your visit according to my plans."
He nodded in satisfaction, "Okay, okay, I will let you know."
He picked up her empty glass and the discarded crushed bones and headed back into the house.
Promise relaxed on the chair, "Life is good." She smiled and yawned. She was going to enjoy the holidays to the fullest.
'God, thank you for this wonderful time of rest.'
"Thank you for the holidays!" She shouted out loud. In that very same moment, several fireworks erupted in the sky above glittering with dozens of beautiful colours.
Promise and her younger sister alighted from the taxi and walked into the compound with their bags and luggage.
Bachelor was seated on a plastic chair outside his apartment eating from a bowl of fruits. He waved at them and they stopped to greet him.
"Bachelor, Bachelor, serious enjoyment."
"Please, please, this isn't enjoyment. It is simply a necessity," he swallowed the banana in his mouth.
"I hear you."
"Who is the pretty lady with you?"
Promise patted Gift on the shoulder, "She is my younger sister."
He flashed his white set of teeth, "Hello dear," he winked at her, "You are taller than your elder sister. Are you into modelling?"
"No," she glanced at her sister who was trying not to laugh.
"Really? You should try it. You have the height, and the... " His eyes ran over her figure, "... and the perfect shape."
Gift rolled her eyes, she was just two inches taller than her sister who was five feet seven inches. He wasn't the only man who had found her attractive and suggested modelling. Was it compulsory for every tall lady to go into modelling?
"Bachelor, take your eyes off this one. She is still a baby," she pulled her sister along. He watched them go, his eyes were still on Gift.
"Why do you call him bachelor? What is his real name?"
"My room-mates and I nicknamed him Bachelor. I don't know his real name," she unlocked the door, opened it and helped her sister to bring in their bags and luggage.
"You ladies are weird. How would you feel if someone nicknamed you spinster or worse, unmarried woman?"
Promise shrugged. It would be embarrassing to ask Bachelor what his real name was. Adaeze and Bolatito might know his name, they have been very friendly with him since they moved into the compound. She would ask them when they returned to Abuja.
Gift looked around her, she liked what she saw, â€œCute and cozy. Nice place you've got."
She smiled and settled on the settee, "Thanks."
"But, this place is too small for four people. It's okay for at least two people, but four? That is like asking for trouble with a capital 'T'."
Her sister chuckled and leaned back on the chair.
"How do you cope?" She sat on the bed and faced her sister.
Promise raised her shoulders and dropped them. She wasn't ready to discuss how she lived with three other people. There were moments when she wished she was living alone. But, at other times, it was kind of fun. Her room-mates were single women with different characters and behaviours. It made life interesting each day.
She took her sister's silence for lack of readiness. She decided to change the topic, "Where are you taking me tonight?"
Her elder sister burst out laughing.
"What?" She raised an eyebrow.
Promise cleared her throat and changed her position on the chair. She rested her back and bent her raised knees.
She eyed her, "You can laugh all you want. But, the first place I want to go to is Yahuza suya spot. I have heard so much about their juicy grilled chicken and meat. I am dying to try it out."
"I hear you, as long as we are spending your money."
Gift gapped, "Promise that is so unfair. I am your guest."
"Yes. You work at Yellow Tube; I am just a student. You are the one with all the money."
"I need to unpack, my Abuja vacation has just begun," Gift danced around the room and winked at her sister.
Promised groaned. Her younger sister would drain her pocket in less than a week. She had enough money to sustain her till the end of the month and the foodstuff her mum packed for her will help a bit, but, entertaining Gift was another story. She needed a backup plan fast!
Promise got to work a bit late that Monday morning. She had taken her sister on a tour around Abuja during the weekend and had ended up waking up late that morning. The sooner her sister returned to Lagos, the better for her. She cannot afford to resume work late each day.
"Promise you are two hours late. You are lucky that Mr. Keshinro is not around," Maimuna sat on her desk.
"Don't mind her, the holidays had probably grown on her skin," Abubakar teased her. Her colleagues laughed at her.
"I wish I could stay back in Lagos a bit longer," she acknowledged. She had enjoyed her vacation.
Abubakar faced Edet and Ogbonna, "What did I tell you?"
They all started to laugh again. Promise sighed, she wasn't bothered by their laughter. They were probably used to working all year round with little or no time for themselves.
"You said Mr. Keshinro isn't around. Isn't he back from his vacation?" she addressed Maimuna who shook her head in reply.
"Mr. Keshinro left for Accra this morning," Edet informed her. She turned to face him.
"Yes, the company is pursuing a new contract with a multinational firm. Mr. Keshinro is handling it," Ogbonna chimed.
She remained quiet, pondering. If her boss wasn't around, that was good news. She doesn't have to worry about his reaction towards her rejection for the time being.
"He left instructions that you must join him this weekend," Maimuna informed her.
She blinked several times. Join him? Why? What for? What was her colleague talking about?
"I don't understand," she tried to appear composed, but her mind was in turmoil.
Abubakar left his seat and came over to her corner.
"Dearie, everyone in this department has travelled out with Mr. Keshinro. That is one of the pecks of this job. You get to travel round the world," his dark eyes glittered with excitement.
She blinked again and tried to smile, but her heart rate had sky- rocketed. Business trip? Accra? Alone with her boss? That was suicidal! They had no idea that their boss wanted her to date him. The trip was a bad idea.
"We usually take turns in travelling out with Mr. Keshinro. It's a new year and you are the newest staff in our department, it's your turn," Maimuna winked at her and got down from the table, "Enjoy your trip."
Promise dabbed at the beads of sweat that had broken out all over her face.
"Are you okay?"
She nodded and avoided looking at him directly.
"I hope you are not afraid of flying."
She shook her head and smiled at him. Edet and Ogbonna started to laugh again.