“And you’re thinking what?!” Betty shrieked, her scoop of ice cream suspended in mid air.
“Accepting the job” I say casually and shrug.
“Have you finally lost your mind? Yeah I know you’re crazy with this career idea of yours and independency and feminist what’s not, but going suicidal, accepting this? That’s beyond acceptable!” she has her spoon down now and was gradually building up a fit.
“It is not a suicidal attempt” I say calmly and drop my spoon “It’s a job offering”
“A Job offering to go kill yourself!” she screams, drawing attention to our table. “What do you think it will prove? Ese, you’re taking this whole independent career lady stunt of yours too far. I thought you were aiming to work with the BBC as a living being!”
“Yeah, that too is the point. It’s also part of why I am taking the offer”
“And how does that add up?” she replies, perplexed.
“Don’t you see, I’m building my resume. Do you know what having an experience as an embedded journalist would do to a career in journalism?”
“That’s if you’re alive to experience it!”
“I am not going to die! this is part of my job, why are you been paranoid and discouraging, it is what reporters do all over the word, self made and acclaimed ones, how can I attain that if I…”
“Ese, this is not America” Betty cuts in painstakingly, like someone being patient on a recalcitrant child. “no one cares for such sacrifices here, Bayelsa is not a place you’d wish even for your enemies at this time, every day we hear news of kidnaps, killings, rapes, bombs and all sort, but guess what? You’re accepting an offer to go there and work, right in the middle of all that chaos, reporting God knows what!”
“Betty”, I will be staying at a military camp, I will be safe.”
“That doesn’t change anything”
“It’s the way you’re looking at it”
“Because that’s the only way to see it.”
My God! Betty can be so annoyingly stubborn and interfering in her misguided concern for me, I am the one accepting the job, the one going to get myself killed like she said, yet here she was acting like I had asked her to go in my place. We had decided to hang out at a KFC restaurant around, and there I told her I was contemplating on taking the job and now she was acting like my mother.
“I know what the problem is?” she says now in all seriousness.
“You don’t have a husband, children or a man in your life. That’s is why you’ve decide to go kill yourself, if you had children who would cry for your attention, you wouldn’t even contemplate this”
Oh really, now she was going to pull the “get a man” stunt? Well I’ve had enough lecturing for one day, whatever she said wouldn’t still make a difference, because come tomorrow I was going to go accept the offer.
“well, when you think of it, that is the beauty of it, nobody gets to care what I do with my life” I reply curtly, stand up and started walking away. I was done arguing a point that was already decided, besides Betty never seem to quiet down when she started her ‘get a man’ stunt.
Betty made no move to stop me, she just pushed her melting ice cream away and stared steadily at the chair I had just vacated.
At least she knows when to give it a rest.
It’s amazing how rumour travel the fastest around the news room, amongst people who are supposedly the epitome of news credibility. Maybe it was due to the fact that the pervading environment was fertile enough to nurture both the real deal- that is news, and the fake deal- unconfirmed stories. Either ways, it was mind numbing.
I’ve never been a fan of such frivolity and didn’t partake in the ‘juice-sharing’ exercise, but that didn’t mean neutralize me from been a hot topic for that grape vine, I have. More so, my name is one of the names that never seem to leave its shores. There were quite a lot of my colleagues who get their thrill from talking about me. Ranging from my secluded lifestyle, to my singleness, to my familiarity with the boss; they always had a field day. Still I never minded to indulge them; it was their time they were wasting after all.
But today, I minded. How the hell had some jobless persons invented the fact that I had accepted the Job offer to Bayelsa because I was expecting a promotion from the MD? Was there no end to their ridiculousness? This had been the silent murmuring that heralded my resumption this morning and I was trying my best to ignore it by focusing on the final reports I had to make.
“Ese” I hear someone called
I raise up my head to see Esosa, looking all tall and handsome, standing by my desk.
It’s so adorable the way his smile lights up his features. At this point I should tell you that he was the only one guy at the office that I had been so crushed on; we even had a stint or two, but you know, ‘had’ been the operative word here means it didn’t work out. At a point I got bored because he seemed so regular with his ‘stay on the edge’ way of life. I wanted the excitement he wasn’t built to offer me, so I broke up with him. We are still good buddies though.
“Hi Ese” I greet warmly. The similarity in our names is actually a private joke between us.
“So how’s the report coming on” he asks.
“Very fine thank you” I reply almost animatedly.
I knew he was stuttering for a reason. Probably came to clarify on the rumours making rounds. Better to help him out and save our time.
“Do you want to know if I’ve collected the promotion letter just yet?” I say, cutting his almost ridiculous stuttering.
“hunh?” he replies.
“Don’t play dumb. I know everyone is talking that I accepted the job because a bigger position would be awaiting me when I return?”
“I had no idea about that?”
Hmmm, that was genuine. Esosa, like me, didn’t indulge in office chatter. Then what was he here for?
“I only came to talk to you” he continues
“Don’t take the job, it’s risky and…”
Not him again! “Esosa don’t do this, I know what I’m doing, there is nothing you’d say that would change my mind, its better we talk about something else and not waste time about that, the decision has been made.”
“I care about you Ese, why should you be the one to volunteer.”
“It’s not a volunteer job, I’m getting paid. But the point is, this is not about the money, it’s something I want to do for myself. Why can’t everyone get that part?!”
My last statement had probably attracted attention judging by the way he was looking around at the other cubicles. Sitting down, I couldn’t see their face but I knew I was feeding the grapevine fatter. But at this point, I was far from caring
“I’m not everyone Ese, and the part I’m seeing is the risk that comes with the job. See, you know I respect and appreciate you, your passion and drive for this job is commendable, but why don’t you pause and think why everyone is trying to dissuade you from this suicidal attempt?”
“Suicidal attempt? It means then that you are all wishing me dead even before I leave. I’m not the first to go on these kind of assignments neither will I be the last, so how come everyone is so concerned now that the opportunity has present itself to me. If you recall vividly, no one had opted to go, you should all be appreciative someone is willing to bail all of your inactive, lazy arse”
“Inactive lazy arse that would stay safe you mean” he replies, seeming undaunted that I had thrown a curse at him too with my last taunt.
“The boss isn’t looking for such” I say and redirect my attention to my computer, making to continue with my report.
“No. He’s looking for a scape goat who would effect on his profit margin, and you alone chose to walk into his trap”
“Trap?” I say amused, giving him a brief glance. “God Ese, if I didn’t know you previously, I would have a reason to doubt your IQ. This is not a trap, it is a job. An experience that would give me a better stepping stone and I’m not planning on rejecting it or getting killed for that matter. I plan on DE-LI-VE-RING”. I say stressing the last word.
“So this is about your career then?”
“It always has been” I reply with finality and swing my chair to back him, indicating that the discuss was over.
I raise up my hand without turning to face him, indicating that I didn’t want to hear any more from him. It’s surprising how quickly he forgot that I was strong hearted in my decisions as they came.
“I guess I can only wish you the best at the end” he says in finality and I felt him walk away.
I pause and raise my hands to my face. Feeling exhausted all of a sudden. First, it was Betty, now him – the only true friends I had in my sorry existence telling me not to go.
I silently prayed then that they weren’t right and I would come out of this a victor.
The office was in a buzz when I entered into its hall-like premises, today is Monday like I said and the editorial meeting was coming up in about…one hour from now.
The dreaded editorial meeting.
Scent of various perfume hung thickly in the air, masking the underlying trepidation that each reporter presently felt. Editorial meetings didn’t quite sit well with majority of them, It meant a time when everyone had to lay their cards out, where they had to tell the management and Editors what stories, features, articles or leads they had slated for the daily publishing of Sunset Newspapers.
They had to have something cooking before unprecedented events and impromptu interviews occurred to add currency to the daily papers. Problem is that most reporters spend their weekend’s doing God know what instead of brainstorming for story ideas.
But that is where I am different. Why I can never be caught off guards in times like this; why I always look forward to Mondays and the pleasure of proving my worth before my colleagues. And why some of them were presently peeking at me in jealous contempt soon as I stepped in.
I smile knowingly as I walked the few steps to my cubicle, stopping briefly to greet some journalists who have a good rapport with me.
Now settled, I was busy with the story on the Cash Estate bank explosion on my laptop when Mabel, one of the intern intakes came to me. She was visibly restless and immediately started speaking fastly:
“Hi. You just have to help me here. Someone said this piece is stale, but it’s an article I worked on throughout the weekend without even knowing it already existed. I was banking on it for the editorial meeting and I have worked so hard on it, what am I going to do if it is not accepted? But isn’t it strange that it even does exist? I mean how can two remotely faraway people come out with the same story? What I’m I going to do? I have just a week to school resumption and I need something to submit as evidence that I…”
“Okay! Stop Mabel, I understand. Let me just see the article” I cut in sharply before she started crying or something since she was already becoming hysteric. I wonder why she even came to me plus I don’t appreciate females who cry over little situations.
She handed me the document.
As it turned out, she was either a good liar or there was a big mix up somewhere because I definitely know that I’d read an article such as this somewhere before.
“And you’re sure you wrote this?” I ask looking up at her.
“Yes! Very sure. I’ve always wanted to write about this since school and decided to finally do so now” she supplied.
After another minute I spend going through the work, I say: “Well then, there’s no problem. It all boils down on the angle you’re taking it from…You witnessed it yourself? Considering the style…”
“Not exactly. I just used that narrative style to make it more personal” she cuts in quickly, scrunching her face like that had been the loophole.
“So change the style. I’m thinking the origin…other writer used that style that’s why it seems similar. So vary it” I say with finality, handing the copy back to her with an indication that we were through with the discussion.
“Can’t you like give me a guide on how to go about this?” she says instead, not making a move to collect the paper from me.
“Guide you?” I say in amazement rolling my chair to fully face her now. Firstly, she had come to me…as in me! Secondly she was asking me to put her through! Mabel asking me to put her through? It just didn’t add up.
Here’s the deal; Mabel was a junior member of Lola’s clique since she had started her Internship with Sunset Media months ago. She had always gone out of her way to steer clear of me that even when other interns came to me for help every now and then, she never did. I only remembered her name from when she had been formally introduced to us all.
I look towards Lola’s cubicle then, hoping to catch ‘them’ watching our little scene because I was very sure they had put her up this. It turned out that Lola wasn’t on seat and everyone else still seem hung up over the dreaded editorial meeting to notice us. I return my gaze back at her, a look of incredulity plastered on my face.
“I know what you might be thinking now, but it’s not about them or anything else, it’s about me, I really need something good to leave with” a pause and then “I’m sorry for…”
“Yeah, yeah whatever Mabel, I don’t think I need your apologies when It’s not like you did anything wrong to me” I say impatiently “But you see right now, I also need to finish up some stories I would be presenting at the meeting, plus others… that is basically the reason why I can’t help you now.
The feature story is good only it lacks timeliness and like I said before, vary the angle, touch up on it then present it and see how it goes. You did come at the wrong time, sorry.” I say with finality and swing my chair back to my laptop. That’s what you get for joining the wrong team, I thought to myself as I set to continue with my laptop.
But after like a minute had passed, I hear her say: “honestly Miss Ese…I really need your help”.
I literally freezed on my seat because I thought she had left. A look on her face now revealed a form of desperation I’d never seen before. Immediately, I felt pity for her and was about saying something when a journalist, who we popularly called ‘the hall crier, announced across the hall that the meeting was starting.
I looked at Mabel then and she looked like she was about to faint as her eyes darted from the man to me. Other of my colleagues were already standing up from their cubicle and making their way out.
Yet she kept looking at me imploringly.
I rose up and gathered the pieces of paper strewn all over my table. They were jottings I had made on different story leads I would present at the meeting.
“Here’s the thing Mabel…” I started saying, seeing that Mabel was in no hurry to leave for the meeting. “There’s nothing I can do for you now because it’s rather late. Go to the meeting, present what you have, if it is rejected, come back to me, I have story ideas you could work on…and yes, I will help you with it”
A smile lit up her face then before she replies “Thank you”
“Sure” I simply say and walk away headed for the meeting.
It had brought me great joy, more than I cared to admit, to help her out. I had always wanted a ‘student’, preferably female, under my tutelage that I could groom into becoming a formidable modern day female journalist. The problem however is that most of these female interns when they resume here tend to gravitate towards the entertainment beat for reasons best known to them and if they perchance choose otherwise, they make it a point to avoid me probably because they have this image of me as a feisty and unapproachable lady with extremist views.
Yet, I only wish that they’d get closer just a little more and see that I am not who they think I am. I might be a little assertive, yes I agree, but very approachable and easy going. What they don’t understand is that part of my seeming distanced attitude stems from the very fact that they consider me so, I am rarely one who has ever been perturbed by public opinion, or who live her life based on someone else’s expectation, it’s like the more they think negative, it’s the more I act negative.
Betty, my best friend, would call it my ‘shell mode’, however that adds up.
“Just in time Ese, I was about asking of you. Nothing better than your inspiring presence to kick off a meeting right?” the MD greeted with a smile as soon as I stepped into the conference room, all eyes turned on me at that moment and I felt my heart beat increase just a little. My mind had been quite distanced plus I wasn’t expecting such ‘grand’ entrance.
Mabel’s little drama had ended up delaying me, causing me to be among the last arrivals. I immediately gathered my confidence, bowed my head as a form of reply and made my way to my seat amidst silent murmur from my colleagues.
At 5pm that day, I was back at the conference room; an internal memo had gone round in the afternoon for all the political beat reporters to assemble back here. Now we all sat expectantly, awaiting the arrival of the M.D and the Chief Editor. And while the others discussed amongst themselves, I was scribbling away at a piece of paper I brought along. You didn’t need to make two guesses before you realize what I was scribbling about. It’s always the same thing.
“Sorry gentle men and…lady for keeping you” the MD said boisterously as he walked round to his seat at the head of the round table. The chef editor who had walked in with him sits after he does.
“Without wasting any more time of our time, I would go straight to the point.” He paused and looked each of us in the face (possibly for dramatic effect. The man was your regular drama-king, if there’s anything like that). “I’m sure we are all aware of the conflict going on in the Niger delta, Bayelsa State precisely?” he asked still looking at us as if he was expecting an answer to his rhetoric question. Who possibly didn’t know about the crisis in Niger Delta?
“Well… the government…if you would refer to them as that… recognizing the fact that Sunset media is the only credible and dynamic media outfit in Nigeria, has requested that we send a journalist or two to the Military camp in Brass, Bayelsa state. Such reporter would have to stay there in camp with them, cover all their activities and relay same to us here at the headquarters, some other news feed and syndicate network will also tap into this opportunity, but that is when he or she… (He looked at me as he said that part, then turned to the others) really knows the job and can go extra mile in uncovering scoops, insight and investigative piece.
Let’s just say this is a million dollar job that would launch the career of any such reporter into greater heights. I know right now it may seem dangerous and improbable considering the war zone factor, but I’m sure some sort of preventive measure would be put in place…and of course adequate remuneration and bonuses are available for such reporter or reporters who would dare to aspire. No more than two are needed here” he says finally.
The room fell into an awkward silence that lasted close to a minute; it was like each person was waiting for the other to take the lead in accepting or rejecting the offer. Here I was thinking that we would all be excited by the prospect of taking our career to the next level. I was already feeling excited about the whole affair, but for some out-of character reason, I did not say.
“Gentlemen and lady, I’m sure we are all aware of the term embedded journalism?” the M.D says again.
Still, he got no response.
“Come on guys! Aren’t we the modern representation of journalism here? We all watch CNN don’t we? And we see this sort of thing every day. I expected we’d all be excited about this and jump at the offer, not keep quiet like…”
“It’s not so Sir.” one of the men cut in quickly and interrupts the M.D impending rant; he could blow easily from hot to cold in a minute and he looked like he was going to tow the line soon enough.
“Then what?” he asks a bit angrily.
“We… well I need some time to go over this proposal and …”
“Sure, sure, I dint say you could give me the answer right now. I just tabled it now so you could all give it a thought then get back to me soon”
That seems to be the catalyst that erased wrinkled creases of worry on the men’s face and ignited a reassuring smile. It hadn’t been a do or die affair after all. I smiled at the likelihood of what would have been running through the minds of these men – having to leave their children and precious wives at home to go chase after those bomb crazy militants when they hadn’t signed up for a career that was life threatening, when all they had wanted was a stable and controlled environment to practice their…
“Ese, you’re smiling. You have something else to add” The M.D says, slicing into my thought. I hadn’t realized he had been watching me.
“Not exactly” I reply, still smiling.
“Okay. So what’s your thought on this so far?” he pesters
“It’s an exciting and thrilling offer, one that I would love to give a great thought to” I reply, for some unknown reason, I still couldn’t whip the smile off my face.
“Good, something encouraging finally.” He says smiling at me then to the others he adds “well gentlemen, we shall call it day”
Everyone stood up then to take their leave, I also rose and nod at the M.D who was still grinning at me. I don’t know what it is with that man when it concerns me, but I do know that this was a job offer I would never ever reject, it represented all that I’ve been trying to prove to everyone and myself for a long time now.
I was definitely taking it.
One of the soldiers held me down while the other kept up with his assault. He was hitting at me with his fist, his boot, and now his baton while he continually screamed:
“Come and see our captain!”
I tried dodging the blows with my hands but it was pointless because the other soldier pinned it effortlessly to my back. He was fair in complexion with a scar that ran from his temple to his cheek. I remembered him as the calm solider from the other day while my assailant was the hostile one, Musa.
I didn’t know how or why I was being beaten up, especially since I had already seen their captain. But the blows kept coming more and more while I wriggled this way and that from the sheer pain and my inability to protect myself. I tried to scream, tried to say a word but found out that I couldn’t, even my eyes couldn’t open because they felt heavy and bloodshot.
“What’s going on there?” A deep voice thundered from afar, immediately the kicks and blow stopped while the hand restraining me seemed to loosen and I heard my assailant say:
“The Captain is here”
I tried opening my eyes which proved herculean but I tried nonetheless to see the Captain who had finally stopped the assault. From the little slit my eyes could manage, I saw his powerful form tower high above me but it was silhouetted by a shadow that suddenly appeared from nowhere.
Just then, a loud and piercing bell rang diverting all our attention sideways where it seemed to originate from. And it kept getting louder, and louder and louder… till I sprang up from my bed, beads of sweat pouring down my face and body; I sat there momentarily, trying to recollect where I was and what had happened when the piercing sound of the bell sound started again.
Immediately, I turned sideways to see that it was my phone ringing. I had adopted the old bell ringtone for my phone, much to the disapproval of my colleagues. It always managed to startle the peace of the atmosphere whenever it rang.
Finally recollecting myself, I stretched out to pick it up and at the same time glance at the bedside clock; it was 8:00am.
“8am!” I screamed and sprang up from bed; I was so late for work.
“Hello” I said to the caller on the phone while I tried to undress for shower. It was my editor.
“Good morning… What?! Oh my God, I’ll be there soon” I replied while making my way to the adjoining bathroom.
“Sorry I overslept. Will explain better when I see you…I will be there in the next 30 minutes” I finally said, cut the call and then dashed into the bathroom.
There had been an explosion at a branch of Cash Estate Bank in Ikeja earlier that morning and the editor had called because he hadn’t seen me at the office or at the scene of the explosion. I felt the thrill of a news-lead settle over me and my head was already running underground calculations as to the cause of the explosion, every thought or feelings about my dreams momentarily forgotten.
“So, what are the sources saying?” I ask my editor soon as I enter the now-shattered banking hall of Cash Estate Bank; he was on the phone however and only acknowledged my presence. I diverted my attention then to take in the scene of the explosion.
The explosion had, fortunately, rocked half of the building that housed the bank, but had devastated the banking hall beyond repairs. It now stood in shatters, computers had exploded, wires spilled their guts on the floor and the furniture that hadn’t burnt to the ground were blackened from all that smoke.
I noticed a red tape wire tied around some areas to restrict movement even though that did not seem to deter the onlookers which comprise journalists from other media outfits, bankers that had resumed work for the day, their face still holding shock and fear, especially since they knew that they would have breathed their last here if the explosion had rocked a little later.
The little investigation I had made from the entrance of the premises before joining my editor revealed that they had been no human casualty, thankfully, due to the fact that the explosion had erupted in the early hours of the morning.
I noticed some journalist crowding over one of the night security guards. He still looked shaken and could not coherently give out information at that state but they would obviously not let him be. Amateur journalist who didn’t know when to pry sources for answers, I thought irritated.
“Ese” I hear my name and turn around to see my editor staring rather disapprovingly at me.
“Morning sir” I reply with an expressionless look of my own. He looked then like he wanted to say more but instead turned around again as if examining the debris and asked: “Do you have anything on the story yet?”
“Not much. I gather they were no casualties and got the assumed time of the explosion from an Officer outside. The witnesses so far are the security men but they seem quite shaken to grant an interview now” I reply.
“Then you have to find a way to make them talk and get a story out of this. This story should be gracing our website today and feature on tomorrow’s tabloid edition. I need you and the team to make a good story out of this. I believe there’s a political undertone to it, but that would be discussed in earnest when we meet at the office”
“Okay” I reply. My Editor always saw an undertone to anything that happened.
“So get your team on this and give me a good report” he said with finality and walked away
“Yes sir” I called after him.
Mr. Badru, my editor, is one of the few men I respect, one of the best bosses to work under, I dare say. I love that he doesn’t treat me as a female reporter working under his beat but same as the other political beat guys. He even gives me tougher assignment and trusts me to effectively carry them out, and for the past four years I have worked with Sunset Media, I can confidently say that I have never failed him once.
Dare I say that it was even one of the reasons why I was presently the assistant editor even though when it came to the time-duration I had spent working with Sunset Media, I didn’t qualify. That should further prove that everything I got was due to my own efforts as a person, not because I am female.
After two grueling hours I had spent working the explosion scene, gathering facts and taking interview, I had gathered all the details I needed to make a story and was presently standing by my car waiting for Caleb, the Photojournalist to join me so we could head back to the office when Ade Coker waltz up to me. (And yeah, Ade technically waltzes in place of walking).
He was your regular 21st century chauvinist guy; was as insufferable as he came and totally believed that the men race was meant to entirely dominate every area of the world while the women looked on in docility, awe and total submission. He and Lola would make a good couple; they shared so much in common especially their determined decision to make me more “feminine” as Ade would put it.
And off course, I never tire of putting them in their places, never tire to tell Ade how happy and contented I am working in a male dominated beat and the pure pleasure it gives me to floor them every now and then even in their supposed comfort zone; and to tell Lola and her crew how satisfied I am as a 28 year old single working class girl who has ambitions beyond being a good mother and wife.
“Efe, howdy?” Ade says to me with a cocky grin.
“Hi Ade” I reply.
“Fancy meeting you here, I thought La Roche house is putting up a fashion show by 9 this morning? Why aren’t you there instead?” he says still grinning animatedly.
I didn’t reply, I just shook my head and looked away, I knew he only wanted to get to me. I don’t cover fashion, and he knows that.
Yet even with his seeming archaic beliefs, you couldn’t just fight the man. He oozed so much self confidence that it sometimes becomes nauseating. You couldn’t actually blame him though; he is the best in his field that even I don’t fail to acknowledge that and the need to keep a good face with him no matter what.
He was so good that the public trusted his perspective, interpretation and analysis on major political events; he had credible sources in most top ministries who had scoop and inside story readily available for him. It was the peak I desired to attain, one which I had much confidence that I would attain.
“It’s a Monday morning Efe and too early for a fight, don’t you think?” Ade says to me waving a hand across my face.
“oh…sure, my mind was somewhere else” I reply and smile. In all that ruminating, I forgot that he had been talking to me. We could disagree on some front but we weren’t exactly enemies.
“Yeah… I know. I look too dashing for work right?” he teased.
“you wish” I reply in mock indignation.
“So who do you think are behind these attacks?” he asks matter of factly in a minute later.
I look at him a moment to see if he was patronizing me again, but he looked honest enough and so I shrug and reply: “who else but the normal suspects, they’ve obviously moved their campaign to Lagos”
“well I do not think the Militants take the credit for this one, the management of Cash Estate Bank, to me, have had this coming for a while” he says with that same confidence and.at that moment, i felt my nerves charge with curiosity and the thrill of the possibility of a background story to the explosion. If it was coming from Ade, then it promises to be explosive and genuine.
“Are you saying there’s a conspiracy theory somehow?” I ask, my attention now fully directed at him.
“well technically…yes.” he simply says.
But after some seconds had passed with no other word from him I say in subdued desperation: “well…” expecting him to elaborate and not just stand there smiling like I had agreed to kiss his arse.
“You don’t actually expect me to spill my scoop for you, do you?” He replies in false surprise before breaking out in one of his mocking laughs.
I mentally kick myself for falling easily into that ditch, and for the next few seconds he kept on laughing, probably at my stoned expression as I stared at him in total irritation.
“Grow up Ade” I finally say stonily and turn away from him. Caleb was already making his way towards the car. “Finally” I say quietly in relief.
“I can’t believe you fell for that” Ade repeats still laughing.
“go on and knock yourself out” I say and start walking to the other side of the car.
“Oga Ade” Caleb greeted soon as he reached the car and they immediately fell into a hushed conversation. From the other side i stood, I tried to make out what they were saying but couldn’t and so finally gave up and entered the car, determined to leave Caleb if he delayed some more.
Soon, Caleb joined me in the car and I started the ignition. “Got enough pictures to kill it?”I ask casually as I rev up the engine for take off.
“Sure” he says.
“Okay” I reply and speed off. I couldn’t be bothered more by what they had said behind my back, not when I had so much more coming up for me at the office. Monday’s came with its own headaches afterall.
Paradigm shift (3)
But alas, I thought wrong. What else had I expected the captain of a bunch of bullies to be? A bigger bully, that’s what.
After one of the soldiers had narrated to their Captain on what my crimes were, he who had seem compassionate and somewhat condemning of ‘his boys’ actions when he had first met the scene, suddenly thought the situation amusing and had gone on to sit at the bench that directly faced me, to join in the fun of my humiliation.
I felt anger boil inside me the more.
“So miss, you didn’t know that only soldiers are allowed to wear the army uniform?” he asked now, a sarcastic grin on his face.
I said nothing in response. What more was there to say? It’s not as if they would give it a second thought.
“if you no open your mouth enh, I swear I go hit this gun for your head ” It was the Aggressive soldier coming for the kill yet again.
“Musa, take am easy, no need to go violent” The captain said, putting out a restraining hand. But he still looked amused by everything that was going on though.
No one said anything more and none made another attempt to hit me; they all just kept staring at me. The heat was becoming unbearable and my kneels were beginning to hurt. I came to the conclusion then that I was obviously a play thing meant to ease the heat of the sun for these confused soldiers.
I mean, if they were not going to punish me, then why are they not letting me go? I wasn’t the Militant up South who they should be tackling, neither did I murder anyone; I just simply chose the wrong outfit to wear today.
Well, the last thing I would continue to do was to give them any more pleasure out of my embarrassing situation. This was Efe, the daring journalist, I was too valiant to look like a wimp before these men, I didn’t come this far to bow to some groups of drunken soldiers, plus I had better things to do at the office… so I’ve had enough!
With this renewed fervor, my countenance changed into that of determination, I knelt there staring coldly at them and was thinking of rising up when the Captain spoke.
“we are still waiting for your reply miss” he taunted again, his eyes glinting in mock challenge
And that was the last straw, I slowly rose to my feet and dusted off the sand that clung to my shorts, all the while speaking: “I’m sorry captain but I have nothing else to say to you or your men. I’ve told them already that I had no idea that there was a law against putting on army patterned clothing, if I did, I wouldn’t have dared…” as I spoke, some of the men stared at me in total surprise. I didn’t know if it was from the fact that I had risen up to my feet or from the fact that I was talking back at their Captain, either ways, I didn’t care.
“…so I believe kneeling down here for up tp an hour now is a enough punishment for me and I would like to take my leave if there is nothing else I can do for you gentlemen” I finished defiantly, my pose and expression backing up every word.
The expression on Musa, the aggressive soldier, was priceless. He seemed the worst of the shocked men, his gaping mouth and contorted face spoke volumes. Still, I still didn’t care. If push came to shove, I could easily pull out my journalist stunt; they have got to be afraid of the media somehow, wouldn’t they?
The captain was staring at me now, but instead of the earlier amused and scornful look on his face, his face revealed nothing, not even anger.
After the few seconds our eyes had been locked in a gaze, neither one of us flinching nor backing down, he said finally: “Very well then, you can go. I apologize on behalf of my boys”
He had said it so abruptly and unexpectedly that I thought I heard wrong.
“oga you mean am?” one of the soldiers asked him in surprise but he just waved at me dismissively in reply.
Yes! I had heard right and didn’t wait to be told again. I quickly picked up my bag and started off in a hurried pace, even though I kept looking back to see if anyone was having a second doubt and was hot on my chase. I noticed that the soldiers had re-convened and were discussing while their eyes trailed my every move.
What if they shot me from a distance? I thought alarmed and walked even faster.
Not long, I saw Musa (again!) hurrying towards me, immediately, without a second thought, I started running. He also increased his pace. My heart was beating uncontrollably against my chest, before I made the turn that would take me out of their ‘den’ and into the main street, I turned back to see all the soldiers doubling over in laughter whilst pointing at us (Musa and I).
I kept running all the way to the bus-stop and jumped into the first bus that I saw, it was only then that it dawned on me that Musa must have pulled out earlier in the chase and I had been the only one running.
I had indeed been a sort of comic relief to them.
Better that than my life, I thought mortified as I tried to catch my breath whilst ignoring the looks from other passengers. They probably wouldn’t understand.
After my ordeal with the soldiers earlier; I didn’t think I could handle anymore confrontation today. I had even felt like heading back home at some point inside the bus but later decided otherwise, thanking the stars once again that it had happened on a Saturday when I wouldn’t have to share my tale of embarrassment with my colleagues at work.
So far, the stars were on my side, I had only bumped into the security guard while on my way up and he hadn’t seemed to notice my flustered look or disheveled state nor paid me any attention soon after we greeted.
What an answered prayer that was.
But as soon as I stepped into the hall-like premises of ‘Sunset Media’ expecting to bask in the solace of the unusual calmness it would provide, I sight Lola Akanbi far away at her cubicle typing away on her computer.
Immediately, I felt the wind knock off my sail.
You see, Lola is the most notorious of the entertainment chicks, and for some reason best known to her, she seem the one among them more determined to set me straight on my feminist-like views. And the last thing I needed now was a confrontation from her!
Slowly, hardy making a sound, I tip-toed to my own compartment/office which was five seats away from hers, (of course I felt ridiculous but I was that desperate). I successfully made the journey and was about to sit down when she raised her head at that moment and saw me. Immediately a mischievous grin crept up her pretty face.
So much for luck, I muttered and sat down, exhaled sharply and silently prayed that she doesn’t feel like coming down to say ‘Hello’. Lola’s kind of ‘hello’ was one that would surely resort into a battle of wits – one that I wasn’t ready to partake in considering how flustered I still felt.
Better to get some job done before Lola definitely made her way here I thought, switched on the computer, then start organizing the piles of paper on my desk.
Yesterday had been the deadline for ‘Saturday Sunset’ and as expected, it had been a mad day for me. My desk ended up the worst of it with strewned papers from cut-outs, memo, jottings, scribbles, earlier edition of newspaper and so on. The Saturday edition contained more of political and entertainment stories, so you can rightly say that I had been busier than a bee yesterday.
I was now taking out the contents of my back pack when I hear Lola’s voice carry in: “Pray tell me, I guess this is expected?” I turned to see her already standing by my cubicle, hands crossed and a malicious grin plastered on her face.
Please not now, I groan in exasperation in my mind, but smile cheerily and say instead ”Goodmorning Lola”
‘I never thought I’d see you here today’ she continued, ignoring my smile or my greeting.
‘‘Well, I got work to do” I replied while I busied still with arranging my desk, hoping she’d catch the cue and leave. But with Lola, that would only be when hell freezes over.
”All that work you’ve done throughout this week, even yesterday and you’re still not satisfied?” she said
”Obviously” I reply curtly.
”And obviously the sign of no social life” she countered.
‘‘Well some of us can’t stand frivolity and vanity” I say with finality and offered a tight lipped smile, another sign for Lola to scram, she still didn’t seem to get it.
“Well that depends on your perception of ‘frivolity’ and ‘vanity’” she said the two words with mock emphasis.
“Oh my God Lola! Was there something you said you wanted?” I said loudly and banged my fist, then turned my attention fully to her.
“Finally an attitude” she replied with a contended grin, her gap tooth flashing to reveal yet another side to her physical beauty.
Lola was one of the prettiest reporters around; you had to give her that credit. She seemed to reflect an aura of womanly contentment, what with being quite young, 32 precisely, and can boast of three lovely grown up children to her credit, also a wealthy and satisfied husband, a dedicated and picture-perfect family, a subtle popularity due to her fashion column in the newspaper and a very promising career in the media industry.
She was the kind of woman people often referred to as successful.
Yet on the flipside, she represented everything I hated. Everything I never wanted to become, the very thing I tirelessly fought against. I never ever envied her, nor wanted to be like her, she reminded me so much of my mother and a life I had sworn never to live.
And I was not one of her crony, I didn’t look up to her, or felt threatened by her picture perfect achievements, nor wanted to play the role the world expected of her which she had perfectly acted out and I finally didn’t feel that I could keep taking her interference in my private time if I didn’t want to. Not today at least.
With that renewed zeal, I stood up sharply, determined to get her off my back at all cost.
“Yes! An attitude that could get all sour if you didn’t take yourself back to your seat this moment”
“No need to get pesky. I only came over to say hello”
“Your hello has gone stale already, so please get yourself back to where you came from. I am not in the mood today, okay?”
Thank God. I breathed finally. It wasn’t a usual thing to see Lola back out of a brawl this easily, but I was glad she did. I should add that in addition to her other ‘sterling’ qualities is her ability to decipher when it was time to give up on a brewing confrontation and play mature.
She however gave me a once-over stare before she finally smiled shrewdly and said: “Nice fashion statement you’ve made with your chosen outfit, I could write a thing or two about it sometime soon” then started walking away, her hips deliberately rolling to probably anger me.
But It didn’t.
Even after three children Lola still had a great body, there was no denying that. She was a dark complexioned lady that stood on about 5.7feet, same as me but her bigger, well proportioned body build contrasted with my rather slim frame and even though she was four years older than me, you could easily think us to be age mates, except of course for the maternal aura surrounding her.
But I didn’t care for any of that. I cared only that I had so much work to do but she and the soldiers had somehow managed to slice into my time.
“Please do, then walk past an army barricade to get your pretty face whipped” I said quietly as I sat back, used a moment to cool off the anger heat that still lingered in me then settled finally to work.
I followed the soldiers quietly to see their ‘infamous’ captain while my mind kept rolling over, trying to remember how or why I had attracted their attention, but couldn’t fathom any reason. The trek down took longer than I expected, I had thought that with the way they urged me back at the bus stop, we would have arrived and I would be facing a mean and desperate looking soldier who would roll out my offence.
I was getting rather uncomfortable and wanted to speak out when we took a turn off the highway into a busy street. There I saw an army blockade and a number of soldiers standing around. Two pairs of them stood beside two cars checking out a man and his driving papers.
Another group clustered around a tree shade beside some bags of sand which formed a heap. Two of the soldiers were sitting down while the rest stood around, chatting animatedly while they shared a glass of liquor. It was to this group that my escort led me.
I didn’t remember seeing this army block when I passed by earlier on. But It was actually not my route, I defended. And the earlier they stated their reason for accosting me, the earlier I went on with my own business.
When we reached, both soldiers left my side, the aggressive one went on to take a sip from the communal bottle while the other simple joined the rest. I was not in their middle, all attention diverted to me even no one said anything yet. Instead their eyes cast at me with different expressions –disinterest, excitement, nonchalance and even amorous.
It wasn’t in my mind to greet any of them, so instead of the fear that a normal Nigerian would feel in the midst of these lots, I felt irritation.
“Na true Musa talk be that then” one of the solders finally said, puffing out a thick smoke from his cigarette while he stared menacingly at me.
“See as she dey look like say she want beat us” another quipped in
“All this butter girls, dem no dey wan fear person!” another exclaimed
“na today she go learn the respect na” yet another voice said
On and on, the soildiers kept throwing tantrums at me in pidgin. I didn’t look at their faces, nor cared who said what, nor even tried to cower before them, as far as I was concerned, I had done nothing to spite them.
“Just see her face sef! No fear, no respect! Oya kneel down there before I whooze you one slap!” I heard a voice shout from behind me. It was the aggressive soldier from before who was obviously eager on ‘whoozing me a slap’
“I don’t understand what is going on here please” I finally found my voice to speak, directing my attention at him.
“Shut up and kneel down there!” another soldier commanded.
But as I turned to see who had spoken, two hands descended on my shoulders and I felt myself being forced into a kneeling position, I tried to struggle free and rise up when a slap landed on my back. I couldn’t muster the strength to stand up thereafter; the slap had weakened me more than I had expected, fear and confusion started creeping in on me then.
“What is my crime?” I asked in a bit of a shaky voice
“So you don dey throw rank with the Nigerian army now abi?” one of them asked.
“What…I don’t understand” I let out in what sounded like a whisper.
“oya show us your badge”
“what badge?” I asked looking at the towering men from one to the other.
“you dey ask what badge abi? Oya why you con wear army uniform for that your lekpa body if you no get the Nigerian Army badge?” he said the ‘badge’ part with a sense of pride.
That was when my crime slowly dawned on me as I saw then the similarity between my outfit and that of the men; the patterned colours on mine even looked brighter and sharper than their partially faded ones.
“Your sense don complete abi? He said to me with a mocking grin.
I tried to say something else when I felt my face cap pulled out from my head and the braids I had painstakingly tried to hide under them inorder to complete the Tomboy image I had set out to achieve come loose. But that was hardly my problem
“she even con wear the cap join” the soldier who had pulled it out said as he stared at it, then at me as if I had commited a deadly crime by putting on the cap.
“see as her eyes dey shine like witch own. If to say you no be woman, we for don beat you black and blue for here” The aggressive one cursed sternly, pointing at me.
I guess there was something to thank God about finally for making me a woman, I thought drily as I stared numbly at them, not daring to say a word or move an inch.
Nobody spoke a thing for another strained minute and Seeing that I had finally come to terms with ‘my sin’, the soldier who had seem to me as the leader of the ‘pack’ left to go sit at a long bench directly facing me, while the others instinctively withdrew some steps away and I was left kneeling down in their midst like a lamb to the slaughter, though their cold stare never left me. The intensity of made it seem hard to imagine that a wardrobe function was the only crime I had committed and not murder!
Jeez! I thought enraged. I needed to do something.
“Can I speak to the captain please” I spoke out after another strained and silent minute passed. Some of the men had gone back to their drinking while the rest were puffing out smoke from their cigarettes and chatting away like they wasn’t a human kneeling down there.
“Wetin you talk?” the aggressive soildier was obviously the one who had heard, who had my time.
“your Captain, or the leader here so I can explain myself” I replied.
“you dey craze!” he shouted and lurched towards me, instinctively I rose up ready to dodge his assault.
“come on kneel down there, which captain you wan see? Wetin the captain go do for you…” as he continued his tirades, I went back to my kneeling position. The coldness in his eyes spoke volumes and his raised voice had attracted the other soldiers’ attention and they turned back at me, each one tracing his steps back to where I knelt. Now they were speaking continuously in raised voices that I couldn’t make out what each said. It felt to me then that they would finally end up beating me black and blue because I had asked to see their captain, and I just knelt there, my hands raised above my head as a final act of self defense in case the blows started coming. My thoughts were hazy and disconcerted when I heard a voice from behind; it was bolder, authoritative and indeed halted the men as they all turned around then to see who had spoke.
Immediately they saw him, they all stood at attention in salute to him.
Finally the Captain, I thought with a ray of hope.
Paradigm shift #1
I love Saturdays! They are guaranteed drama-free days at the office; days where I don’t get to cross part with the reporters from the entertainment department, them and their love for frivolities and hearsays. I mean, how could people go to college, get a communication degree and come back only to stalk celebrities in their ludicrous pattern of life? Putting a tag on them like they make the world go round? I don’t get it, never did and never would. Females, who major the entertainment beat, to me, are just the worst of it – the very betrayers of female fight for independence.
I mean, if they don’t take themselves serious by going into careers that show the male counterpart that they are ready for equality and independence, then who will?
Now don’t get me wrong, I do not secretly envy my colleagues nor strongly champion the cause of the radical feminist, far from it. I am way contented working in the political beat where I double as a reporter and an assistant editor, chasing political sources and investigating stories that touch the polity and affect people’s lives, gives me the thrill. I don’t dwell in make believe nor do I disguise the reality at hand with flimsy soft sell.
And as for my feminist view, let’s just say I am conservatively liberal, whatever that means. I believe that women should be given equality as the men in every way – career, politics, business, marriage, finance and what have you. Yet I still feel the female should make an effort to show the world that they are ready for such responsibility, problem is, most of us females want to eat their cake and still have it and there I do not fault the men.
Now, although I never get tired of telling Lola, Esther and their ‘gangs’ why they need to find something more dignifying to do with their lives aside from making babies, catering for husbands and playing fashion police to fellow celebrity air-heads as themselves, I don’t feel like it today. I have quite a lot of pressing work on my hand.
The exclusive feature on the recent surge of terrorism and militancy in Nigeria needs to be fine tuned and sent to the chief-editor for final appraisal before it is published on Monday, I have two interviews I just conducted to transcribe but most importantly is the cover story I’m working on for BBC Africa which would be due on Wednesday.
I am looking forward to the next level in my career and BBC pose as my utmost target, something is definitely in the pipeline and that’s the more reason I need to focus. No distractions.
I had decided against driving my car, didn’t feel like getting caught up in the Lagos traffic, plus I needed to concentrate My chosen outfit mirrored the state of my preparedness- depending on your perspective though – I am wearing a slim-fit black top perfectly tucked into an army patterned khaki trousers and an army face cap to match. I have a one handed back pack casually slung on my back, it contains my mini-laptop, a jotter and my tape recorder.
I have a few steps to reach the bus stop when I heard someone shout behind me. I turn around to see two soildiers walking towards me, their faces looked anything but familiar or friendly and they seem to have their focus set on me.
‘hey you! Stop there!’ one of them shouted angrily while pointing at me.
I subconsciously looked around to see if there was someone close by me they were referring to.
‘where she dey look! Common come here’ the other shouted angrily. They were already by my side and one of them reached out to grab my hand, immediately I stepped back.
‘what kind of embarrassment is this?’ I exclaimed, half surprised, half panicked and half indignant.
“you still dey talk abi?” the first soldier said again.
‘I don’t get it. Is there any way I can help both of you?” I tried again, already feeling irritation creep up my skin. I cant imagine how I had attracted the attention of the Nigerian on this beautiful Saturday.
‘just follow us go see captain” the first soldier said and reached to grab my hands again. I instinctively pulled away.
‘Don’t make this any harder. Just come with us peacefully to avoid any force” the second soldier spoke with unexpected calm.
But I still had to make one more effort at trying to salvage the situation. “I’m sorry, but I can’t go anywhere if I don’t know what…”
“you still dey sharp your mouth there abi! If I whooze you one slap enh, that your sharp mouth go shut up once” the first soldier, who obviously is the aggressive one, angrily cut me short. Surprisingly, He was actually planning on carrying out his threat if not for the other soldier that made an attempt to restrain him.
That moment was when I knew not to argue anymore. I mean this was the Nigerian solider we were talking about here; they were a set that didn’t respect class, office or gender. It was time to apply diplomacy.
‘okay let’s go see your Captain”. I said.
The calmer soldier led the way while the aggressive one went behind me as I walked alongside. It was obviously to fore-stall any attempt I had of escaping.
‘The fool” I thought bitterly but didn’t dare vocalize my thoughts.
A journey of a thousand miles they say, begins with a step. Now this might just sound so easy, but take it from the ‘journey steppers’ that it is not.
So much is involved before that one little first step can be taken. There’s the problem of ‘No time’, ‘No funds’ ‘Little motivation” and the big one…. ‘Procrastination’.
But as they also say, the best way to start is to exactly start! And that little leap of faith has been taken today (not exactly today though).
Either way, welcome to my blog which would mainly cover literature, arts and the likes. But of course, the list will get bigger with time and it can only get better.