4.00pm Monday afternoon
Holloway Grove Victoria Island.
Kabir Tijani sat at his work desk on the eighth floor eating left over Sallah meat from a large plastic bowl that held braided intestines, shaki, roundabout and cubed pieces of yam floating on a broth of hot pepper soup. A smaller bowl held fried peppered meat and kilishi on a bed of lettuce that Kabir would ignore. Kabir unearthed the plastic spoon from its tissue wrapping, lifted the pieces in large chunks and chewed loudly completely enjoying the silence that came from having the office all to himself. The Eid celebration had mandated a public holiday leaving the entire office complex devoid of noise; the numbers on the elevator did not light up, the air conditioners were switched off and the coffee machine lay empty. Kabir had come here on a whim, his house held too many memories of Halima kneeling before him, of uncles enquiring and aunties scolding. So this morning when he woke up in the loud silence of his house in Ikoyi he grabbed the car keys, left-over bowls of meat in his fridge dropped off by well-wishers during Sallah visits the day before and sped on the empty motor ways till he got here. He sat reclined in the executive chair with his feet on his desk, in his blue kaftan and for once Kabir’s head was empty, his mind was quiet like it too was exhausted with the mere thought of what a horrible person he was. It appeared his brain had re-learnt had to switch off.
Kabir had come to a nasty conclusion; he wasn’t a nice person. He either showered those he loved with attention or paid none at all. He was also painfully aware that this was a major deciding factor in Jen’s dislike of him. It should come as no surprise; he expected this, she told him severally to smile at the gateman, say “Thank You” when Sandra wheeled a lunch trolley up, but he didn’t listen, so wrapped up in everything she said he was ‘Gorgeous, Brilliant and Charming.’ Bah! Well beauty really is in the eye of the beholder isn’t it? She didn’t think he was any of these things anymore did she? He deserved it, this lack of acknowledgement Jen dished out. Maybe he was destined to mess it all up from the beginning. Kabir didn’t believe in destiny- Halima did- she always said they were meant to be together, always read out their horoscopes pretending not to care what it said but he knew she loved all that- the charmed existence she wanted them to live. Halima was born into privilege but Kabir knew she would have shacked up in a garage with him if he told her their love would convert it to a cozy cottage. She believed love was magic. That naivety was to be protected, but what did he do? Turn her into another “Men are Dogs” campaigner – like the world needed anymore men haters. Kabir felt sorry for the next man that would attempt to love Halima, he would surely pay for crimes he did not commit.
No matter his current melancholic state the point remained that Allah had provided him with two wonderful women and he managed to screw it up. There were people who prayed for the devotion Halima showed him and the passion Jen ignited in him. He was stupid in thinking his love was prize enough for these women. The wings of the Dark Angel have been clipped off and Kabir tasted humility, it wasn’t a taste he was accustomed to. You don’t have to believe in much to realize you have made a mess of things, when meekness stops you from asking for a second chance because you know you don’t deserve it. Kabir however knew that Allah was Beneficent and he believed that if he proved himself, took what he had learnt and implemented it in his daily life, he will once again be blessed with an encounter with someone he could love. For all his bravado, Kabir didn’t do well on his own and only shone bright on the arm of someone loving him. Mutual love is what made his eyes sparkle, his mojo has been taken away.
So that was his new-year resolution in advance, but for now on this hot afternoon, he would just enjoy not hating himself. Kabir turned on the plastic fan Femi bought on his first day at the office thinking he would need it. Kabir switched it on and angled the blades towards him, the fan whirred nosily and leaning forward Kabir cupped the plastic bowl in his palms, raised to his lips and drank the soup, the hot peppers burnt the back of his throat and he immediately cooled off with large chilled gulps of Maltina from the miniature ice cooler he had packed last minute as he heated up the pepper soup in his microwave. The old Kabir would have marveled at his sheer brilliance in effectively executing this impromptu meal by remembering to pack drinks; the new Kabir was just glad he had his appetite back.
Jennifer Ovbiagele walked past the glass sculpture in the lobby, swiping her card at the elevator. Her reflection in the mirror looked almost confused at her state. ‘Is this well-dressed corporate Jen?’ It seemed to ask and Jen scowled at her casual look today. Black sandals, skinny jeans and a white tank top, her hair was in a rough ponytail, her nails without varnish and she wore no jewelry. She could be forgiven, she knew the office would be empty and she wanted to get some work done. The week gone had been her most unproductive till date, including the Friday she strolled in late after spending the night at Esosa’s- luckily for her barely anyone made it in due to the heavy rainfall and no one was the wiser. This week however she just hadn’t been on form so she wanted to lay some figures down before the hustle of the rat race began again tomorrow. Jen walked out as the doors opened into her office and for the first time surveyed it empty. Hard to believe this room contained so many characters, as the plain office space looked almost starved of personality with no fax noises, bubbling coffee machine and Shaw. Pulling her chair out Jen got down to business; hooking up her USB, opening relevant software, laying out her calculator and the sheets of numbers begging to be made sense of. A while later, happy with the progress made Jen decided to take a walk around and stretch her legs, she took the stairs to the eight floor lingering on the stairwell, she remembered her last outburst here; the recollection didn’t make her cringe but it didn’t leave her smiling either. She cracked the door open and heard the whirr of machinery; she wanted to leave the hard worker be but Jen wanted company for a little while so she peeked her head around the corner and spied a figure in blue reclined with his feet up. Well so much for hard work Jen thought. She knew then that she should leave, anyone would love a break from work but no one- her included- would appreciate their down time been trespassed upon. Jen let the door swing back and walked down to her floor hoping she knew how to turn the coffee machine on.
10.00am Tuesday morning Holloway Grove Victoria Island.
Jen tapped her heels against the side of her desk as she struggled through a difficult column of figures; Mariya was immersed as well, they both had their heads bent. The office was unusually quiet as everyone worked hard; seeming to make up for the indulgence over the holiday. It was in this atmosphere that Jen’s Blackberry rang loudly disturbing the diligent atmosphere of her co-workers. With an apologetic smile and two fingers still posed over her calculator Jen answered the blocked number.
“Hey” a voice said
“Hey you” Jen smiled into her reply
“How’s your day so far?” Esosa asked
“I’m only an hour into it but its set to be a long one”
“Oh, wish I could help”
“You could join me for lunch” Jen suggested
“That’s what I’m calling you about” Esosa started
“Ok” Jen crossed her fingers
“I have to go to
“In an hour”
“Crap” Jen swore. Esosa laughed
“I know, and I was really looking forward to tonight”
“What’s happening tonight?” Jen asked
“Guess you’ll never know” Esosa said cheekily
Jen forced a laugh.
“Hey” Esosa said softly “I’ll miss you. Alot”
“Good. That’s your punishment”
“Call you when I get there” Esosa said amidst static
“Ok” then the line went dead
Jen glanced at the end screen on her phone, and felt like an idiot. She just acted like a petty child, she should have said “I’ll miss you too, probably even more because I just realized I’ve fallen for you” she sighed. This was supposed to be simple, he liked her- she liked him. Why couldn’t she just say it? Why was she was so scared? Now she understood how frightening it was to put yourself out there- wear your heart on your sleeve. Esosa and Jen had gotten into a dance where the only person that expressed interest was him; Jen never had to reciprocate but now she was in that dangerous territory of emotion where she wanted it to be ‘official’, her heart was getting involved and she wanted or rather needed to be his girl. It would be so much easier if Esosa would just formally ask her out then she could say yes and be done with it. Instead she played this game acting like her feelings for him hadn’t changed; the thought that admitting she now felt the same might damage everything. There was a certain frailty to her crush on Esosa, built over time without her even knowing it was growing made it feeble. Not a powerful force that would conquer everything in its path, but a persistent glow that felt like it could be snuffed out if she wasn’t careful. Jen believed if anything was to ever go wrong with this it would be her fault. It was a humbling experience to discover you had that power; to break someone’s heart, with just the wrong word, a rough gesture, a misplaced kiss.
It is so much simpler to play the victim, leave the decision making to someone else but at the ready to condemn if it didn’t go your way. Jen now understood the full scope of what Kabir had to deal with. She slept with him and then never spoke to him again. Yes, she had her reasons; self preservation being the foremost. She hated messy situations and ran as fast as her stiletto feet would carry her. But she never verbally told Kabir never to bother her again, all along she gave mixed signals, not speaking to him but never fully indicating she was over him as well. Jen didn’t think she knew what she wanted then either. Pushing away from the computer screen Jen got up and walked towards the elevator. She needed a break, something to lift her spirits; Jen pressed the button to the ground floor before remembering that Sandra was off today. As the doors slid open to the lobby Jen saw Kabir walking in, he looked different. She studied him, really looked through the expensive dark purple shirt and bulging arm muscles. There was something about the way he hunched his shoulders like he had been beaten at something, but he didn’t look upset. Stop it Jen, why do you always have to over examine him every time you bump into him? You are almost someone else’s girl now abi? Eyes front. She stepped back to let him in
“Thank you” he said. Jen nodded back a response
“How’ve you been?” Kabir asked
Kabir looked at Jen for a minute before he replied “I’m well. Everything is falling into place.”
Jen thought that was a weird answer but she smiled anyway. She stepped out on the second floor and Kabir waved goodbye. Jen mused as the elevator doors slid shut; it appeared they had reached some sort of homeostasis. That encounter wasn’t awkward at all.
Jen greeted Temi and stole a lollipop from the glass bowl on her counter. She had barely gotten two licks before
“Have you heard?” Temi whispered with a glint in her eye.
Ehen this is what she wanted to hear. Jen raised an eyebrow and Temi divulged details of Halima’s resignation. It only recently came to light that she quit, everyone assumed she was fired as attendance is taken very seriously in Holloway and Halima had been absent for two weeks prior.
Jen asked questions at the speed of light; boring generic stuff about state of health and family emergencies except the one she really wanted an answer to. Temi was oblivious, completely engrossed in how weird Halima’s behavior was, how she had stepped in showing no signs of distress and with no explanation for her whereabouts for the past couple of days either.
“It doesn’t matter anyway. Do you know how much money her father has?” Temi continued puckering her lips in a hiss
Jen shook her head no
“Enough dough” Temi rubbed her index finger and thumb to indicate cash “She probably worked here just for fun”
Jen said something in agreement that started Temi on a tirade of how she works because she has to and not because she’s bored. Jen zoned out and recalled Kabir’s defeated stance in the lobby before he saw her and forced his shoulders upright. She saw him looking like he pulls overtime…she had no proof of that but she knew how she immersed herself in work to heal a broken heart. After a couple more minutes spent with the HR ladies as they debated Halima’s state of origin “
It was a long week punctuated only by brief phone calls from Esosa whenever he got the chance. Esosa did tell her the trip was for 10 days but he was working his hardest to get it done sooner so he could get back quickly, possibly by Monday. Jen appreciated that and called to say it was for such reasons that she fell for him and that she missed him but always seemed to call at the wrong time; Esosa was sleeping or working. In meetings, conferences and seminars, sigh. Jen responded comically to all his text messages, trying to keep his spirits up because she didn’t feel she had the official right to nag. She wasn’t his girlfriend. Besides it was just till he returned on Monday, it wasn’t forever. That didn’t mean it didn’t suck, this not having him. She finally made up her mind, she knew who she wanted to be with and now she had to wait. It should be funny but it wasn’t. Jen read yet another “so sorry I missed your phone call last night” text from Esosa. Jen could be patient till Monday, what’s the worse that could happen?
Everyday Jen bumped into Kabir, and like magnets the pull dragged them back to spend more time talking, they began having longer face time; in the elevator, in the stairwell, in her office, in his, but mostly in the cafeteria. They had lunch together most days and just talked, she learnt a lot more about Kabir. Not the Architect or Rich Boy but Kabir the person. He told her about finally believing in destiny, allowing himself to make mistakes; he thanked her, without saying what for. She knew his favorite book, she knew his parents didn’t speak to him for two months after he moved to
Jen tried not to notice how Kabir had changed. She pretended not to see him offer Temi a ride when it dark clouds began gathering, she also feigned ignorance when Sandra excitedly waived help with her script blushing as she hinted someone who would run lines with her during her lunch hour, she also made a u-turn as she heard Musa speaking in rapid Hausa to an unidentifiable dark male. The reformed bad boy appealed to Jen; especially one eager to stock up on karma points. Jen knew this harmless fantasy ‘of the good person she had created’ became dangerous when she bumped into Kabir in the elevator and she noticed for the first time in weeks how pink his lips were, how good he smelt when he stood close, how she liked his hair this rough, how dark his skin was against his white Egyptian cotton shirt.
“Are you okay?” Kabir asked raising an eyebrow
“Of course. What’s the matter with you?” Jen replied harshly
“Nothing” he looked confused “I was just wondering because you look…”
“Kabir I’m very busy” Jen said annoyed as the elevator opened to her floor. She stepped out and immediately dialed Esosa’s number; it didn’t go through the first time. “Devil get behind me” she whispered and tried again, he answered on the first ring.
“Hey” Jen chirped a little too loudly. Damn all this ‘wait till he gets back’ nonsense, she had to tell him now because she was projecting on Kabir.
“You sound flustered” Esosa said concerned
“Jen” he called when there was no answer
“I have to tell you something” Jen forced herself to say
“No time like the present right”
“That’s what I always say” Esosa laughed. Jen smiled
“If you ever decide you still want me….”
“Hey Esosa how long are you going to be?” came a male voice over the phone interrupting Jen
“Imade I’m on the phone” Esosa replied
“Well Dansabe will take the account elsewhere unless they get you to head the merger and we are late for the brunch meeting”
“Dansabe?” Jen croaked. It can’t be possible
“Yes” Esosa replied “his daughter just took over the textile division, getting the account is the whole point of this trip”
Jen’s head was spinning and she felt faint
“Jen are you okay?” Esosa asked sensing something was wrong, he heard a mumble and then the phone line went dead.
‘Karma is a bitch’ Jen mouthed as she sank to her seat gripping the table
11.00am Friday morning Central Business District Abuja.
Esosa Oyakilhome stared at his phone wondering at Jen’s abrupt hang up. Did she say something about wanting her? He didn’t get it, Esosa rubbed his head. This trip was playing havoc with his alertness. He was working his hardest to get all the wheels in motion so he could return to Lagos; it had gotten so bad Esosa fell asleep last night spooning the gross figures of Dansabe Textile and Clothing. He dreamt Jen said all these wonderful things to him. Sentiments he hoped he would hear but never this soon; she told him he was kind, a great kisser, her knight in a Cayman blue AYGO. Esosa smiled in his sleep and dropped the idea of getting sleeping pills in the morning if it meant missing out on these kinds of fantasies. When he awoke he saw the missed call on his phone, Jen never called him more than twice in a row because she hated being clingy, he sent her an apologetic text as he got dressed but the whole day he wondered about the dream, it seemed so real. It was possible he answered the phone in his sleepy state; he would always pick up Jen’s phone call no matter what he was doing, his head obviously made up the rest. Imade glanced at him impatiently, Esosa grabbed the file from his desk and they both climbed into the waiting silver Jaguar XJ the Dansabe liaison sent to take them to the hotel where the meeting would take place.
“People get money sha” Imade said whistling as he admired the Soft-grain leather seats
“Ugly boy like you no get chance now” Esosa teased
“Dey there. I get sugar mommy o. My level don change” Imade laughed
Esosa laughed with him, he enjoyed Imade’s company which made choosing an assistant on this trip easy. It still surprised Esosa how young he was because he worked so hard, such an eager learner. Imade could easily give 100% for a straight fortnight, working tirelessly without complaint, and he was only a year older than his brother. Imade was intensely enjoying his first trip to Abuja as well, his first out of Lagos by air he confessed to Esosa on the flight here and he handled being in the air very well for a first time flyer. He had a problem with showing weakness and Esosa admired that, in this business it was essential. They had pulled a 12hr shift last night yet Imade could barely sit still he was so excited and his enthusiasm wore of on Esosa. As the driver turned 19" toba alloy wheels into
The very tall liaison led them to the hotel lobby and Imade tried not to look impressed. The Piano Lounge had an avant garde design and the laminated reflective ceilings stretched above flooding the room in light, the black Steinway grand piano flanked the leather chairs, it was the perfect venue for an informal business meeting. Already seated at a round table were four men in sharp black suits and two strikingly beautiful women who Imade whispered to be the infamous Dansabe sisters. They were seated by the liaison and finally caught his name as the smaller of the two sisters referred to him as Sadiq. Besides such business acumen Esosa and Imade looked under prepared; the Dansabe male negotiators visibly relaxed not feeling threatened at all. Esosa liked that, it was always a fatal mistake to underestimate your opponent.
The tall sister in the long green traditional dress spoke first
“Welcome. I understand that this was impromptu and I appreciate being able to make it down for the preliminary acquisition discussion”
“It was an honor to be invited” Imade responded quickly. Esosa placed a restraining arm on Imade’s shoulder. He opened his folder to a blank page and wrote “they brought us here. THEY want us”
The sister watched the exchange with serious eyes, it was obvious nothing got by her.
“We’ll get right down to it. We request your services primarily because we were impressed with the work executed on the Etisalat re-launch” Esosa was impressed, she really got right down to it and by placing all cards on the table she had regained control of the situation.
The suit to her far left glanced across for permission, and with a subtle nod that Esosa would have missed if he were any less observant, the dark man spoke
“Miss Jummai is right. We were even more intrigued to discover that Etisalat was merely a parent company and your services could be ‘rented’. We will however like to discuss your fees prior to opening negotiations on the textile merger.”
Esosa spoke then and he directed his comment to Jummai because she was obviously running the show
“Our fees are non-negotiable but on the basis of how much insight you feel is given towards your perceived goals for the company the bonus awards can be discussed”
“We have already explored the possibility of expanding our factory to increase productivity” Jummai interjected with a look Esosa associated with top CEOs. She did not take bull, Esosa liked her, and he smiled.
“We would actually desist evolving from a domestic small-scale status” Esosa replied calmly “Your cotton stage presently accounts for over 14% of total exports…” and as if rehearsed Imade passed copies of their sales record to everyone at the table. “Expanding in this present economic climate would halt profit at the rag stage”
“So what do you advice?” the dark suit man asked
“That Sir is why you should hire us” Imade smirked. Esosa looked at Jummai; Jummai looked at her sister who had remained silent throughout.
“Inform the maître to bring the brunch menus out” Jummai said smiling at Esosa “It appears we are in business”
After a hefty feast of Olympic salmon rings, roast tomato, egg and rocket bagels blueberry cheesecake muffins and a Tuscan picnic loaf; Dansabe Textiles had officially hired the services of Esosa’s auditing team. As the coffee was poured into little porcelain mugs shortly after conclusion, Jummai spied Esosa mid sip and said good naturedly “At least I know where half your bill will go towards”
Imade blushed as he had tried to impress her, Esosa smiled again. Imade glanced from one to the other and raised a not-too-subtle eyebrow. The whole team departed then but not before Jummai scribbled her number down in case of emergency with a straight face; Esosa couldn’t tell if she was joking or not. If he wasn’t madly in love with someone else he might have been intrigued to find out. As Sadiq reluctantly chauffeured them back to Etisalat offices, Imade looked at Esosa and said
“I underestimated you.”
“That’s how it’s done” Esosa replied hoping Imade was referring to the meeting and not the client.
12.20pm cafeteria Holloway Grove Victoria Island
Jen walked in sluggishly, she hadn’t been able to get her mind off what Esosa said. Dansabe? What the hell were the odds of that happening? She thought they were a royal family in
“Karma is a bitch”
“I agree” Kabir said staring at his plate
“I deserve it”
“I doubt that” Kabir looked at her
“Yeah because I’m virtuous woman personified” Jen rolled her eyes and stole dodo from a side dish
“More virtuous than me”
“You are not that bad, well the new you anyway. Change suits you”
“I am tolerably sick of vice which I have tried in agreeable quantity” Kabir said smiling
Jen smiled back. They shared a look for a moment.
“Why is this getting awkward?” Kabir asked, normally he would move on but he promised to always be honest with himself
“I don’t know what you’re talking about” Jeb lied as she coached herself to look at his face and think straight.
They spoke some more as Kabir finished his meal and afterwards headed for the elevator. Waiting for the lift, Jen stopped thinking and said
“Do you miss me?”
“Is that a safe topic?” Kabir asked back
“Yes or no?”
“What will it matter?” Kabir watched as Jen broke the personal space barrier they had. What was she doing?
The elevator opened then and Jen walked in first, as Kabir followed after and pressed his floor then hers, Jen decided to let it go as Kabir said
“All the time. I think about you all the time Jen but I understand that I can’t have you because I blew it and….”
Jen grabbed him by the collar and kissed him, Kabir swallowed his last words and before drowning in the ecstasy that Jen could illicit from him with just one look he punched the stop button on the elevator.
Stay Tuned for the finale of Cash or Credit