Oluwole & Oluwole was one of the top corporate law firms in Abuja; top on Imade’s Top Law Firms in Abuja list when she got back from her Master’s in the UK, and after dropping off her CV at sixteen of the firms on her list, being told the customary we will get back to you, she finally got the call back from Oluwole &Oluwole. Taking their offer was non-negotiable because after six months of being jobless and sharing Chidinma’s one bedroom in Kubwa, she knew when to cut her losses.
Sometimes after she resumed work at O & O, she thought about how naïve she had been to think that a Masters from University of Birmingham would open more doors than a Master from University of Benin – the only thing it did, was make her sound high budget and non-affordable. Once, during an interview while still looking for a job, the CEO had told her that she was overqualified and her abroad certificate was scaring them.
We want people we can mentor. People who can grow with us. He said.
When she asked what he would consider growth; he had offered her a salary of forty-thousand-naira, exposure and mentorship. She left the office located in a high-rise building in Maitama, and cried inside her cab.
Oluwole & Oluwole had been a welcome change from the pitiable offers she got and she had enjoyed her time with them the past seven years; living from brief to brief, attempting to solve the problems of the companies who were their clients, hunting for more clients over lunch and dinner dates, sometimes flirting with one or two potential clients. Yes, she remembered those days – the headiness she felt while she chased a brief and they chased her. She loved the adventure and excitement that came with each brief, the challenge to bring in more clients with billable hours, she had enjoyed sitting in the boardrooms with CEOs and CFOs wading through their paperwork and their snags.
Somewhere along the line, she realized, she lost the big picture. She still showed up at work every day in skirts and stilettos, but began to be stifled by boredom, those adventures became routine and the excitement melted away; ice-cream on a hot summer day.
A wave of nostalgia hit her as she entered her boss’ office – the smell of paper, stale sweat mixed with designer’s perfume was like an embrace from an old friend. She inhaled, exhaled. Seven years in a place did that to you.
“Barrister! The best lawyer I know!” her boss, Bankole Adeniran-Oluwole, the third grandson of the Oluwole whose name the firm bore, spoiled brat and brilliant lawyer, greeted her with a boisterous hug.
“Don’t flatter me,” she shushed him, leaning into his large hug, excusing the familiarity. Bankole was huge in all ramifications – bones, body, muscles – and he carried his bulk well, often described as charismatic
He laughed, releasing her, his eyes strolling down her body, openly flirtatious.
“Remind me why you didn’t agree for me again,” he said.
“Because of them,” she moved away from his lingering touch, pointed at the framed photo on his mahogany desk – his wife and two sons flanking him. They were a beautiful family, if only Bankole could keep it in his pants.
He laughed again, his small paunch dancing to the rhythm of his laughter.
“Sit?” he asked, pointing her to a chair before heading behind his desk.
“Thank you,” she settled in the black leather seat. The first time she had sat in the chairs in his office, she had been amused by the comfiness of it, the way the chair enveloped her like a warm hug.
“When clients come to you, they want to feel welcome. They want to feel comfortable – only then would they open up to you.” He had explained then.
“Chairs are still as comfortable as ever, I see” she said, slightly bouncing in the chair.
“All the better to woo you back,” he grinned at her, charming.
“Who says I want to be wooed back?”
“Come on, Imade. We have history now, tell me what you want and we will work something out.”
The problem with spoiled brats was that they thought everyone and everything could be bought, that just because they wanted something meant they would get it. Just like when he had come after her for her first six weeks at the firm, until she had told him in no uncertain terms that she would sue for harassment if he didn’t stop leaving gifts on her desk and calling her at odd hours.
“Is it another company that is taking you from us? Tell me, what are they offering?” he continued speaking, tapping at his iPhone watch simultaneously. He frowned. “Nigerians and meetings. I have a meeting in thirty minutes. Want to tag along? For old times’ sake hmm?”
He winked, revealing tiny dimples. There was nothing impressive about his face, small eyes, bulky nose and thickset lips set in a chocolate-toned face with a receding hairline that made him look older than his forty-seven years. Perhaps, Imade wondered at the beginning, there was something women found attractive about him that gave him this self-confidence, but later, after spending years in Abuja, she realized that there was a culture in this place, a sophistication that hovered around married men with money.
“Banks, you are not hearing me,” she answered finally, rubbing her palms together to ward off the chill from the AC. “I am done fa, I’ve tried now, haba. Seven years to this place.”
His brows furrowed, a concerned look settling there. “You’re serious? We’ve been through a lot together now.”
“Yes, I am serious.”
“What do you want? A raise? What? Let’s talk about it,” he swept his hand across the desk, papers fluttering slightly.
She sighed. “Everything is not a deal to be negotiated, Banks.”
“But it is. Life is all about deals. Tell me there isn’t some other company dangling some goodies in front of you,” he smirked. “Abi, are you getting married? If that’s it, I understand. You’ve worked so hard, it’s time to relax and be taken care of, like you women say.”
“The truth is my time here is up. When you know, you know.”
“So…what, you are telling me there’s no other firm stealing you from us? I saw you talking to that man from Ajason & Kleptick at the conference last month. Tell me, what did he offer? We can talk about it.”
“There is nothing to talk about Bankole. What if I say I am not ‘being stolen’ by anyone else?”
“You are going to start your own firm?” incredulity echoed in his voice.
Imade paused, realizing that no, she had never really thought about owning her own firm.
“No,” she responded. “I’m just leaving.”
“What? No plans for the future? Or you don’t want to share them with me?” Bankole had a gleam in his eye that reminded Imade of a mischievous school boy.
“To be honest Bankole, I really don’t have it all figured out yet. I’m still praying about it.”
“Baah, not this Jesus thing again. You are throwing away your entire career on a whim? On prayer?”
When he put it like that, it sounded juvenile, like she was a twenty-year old who recently completed NYSC and was still finding her way, wading the waters.
“I…” she began, realizing too late that she didn’t know what to say. Really, what plans did she have beyond the next minute? It was a strange place to be for someone who liked to make plans, lists and schedules, manage the littlest details of her life.
“Look, think about it. We want you here. It’s obvious you haven’t thought this through,” he shut his laptop, slid it into the Gucci bag leaning on his desk. “It’s out of character for you to be so…so, I don’t know…careless with your life. Or, is this midlife crisis? Menopause?”
“Bankole! That’s very condescending!” she glared at him. “It’s my life and I’m allowed to make decisions without running them by you. Last time I checked; I am a grown woman.”
“Okay, okay. No vex,” he held up his palms in mock surrender. “I just care what you do next. And I’m sure when you think about it, you will realise that Oluwole & Oluwole is still home. Don’t hesitate to reach out.”
She got to her feet, “Thank you for a great seven years at Oluwole & Oluwole. I learnt a lot here. I’m sure someone better will replace me soon enough.”
She reached her palm out for a handshake, ignoring the bewildered puppy-dog look on his face. He leaned forward, clasped her hand in his and gave her a firm shake.
“Good luck, Imade.”
Outside his office, Imade leaned against his glass door and inhaled. Okay, she was going to admit it, she was scared as hell because her boss, ex-boss was right. She had no idea what to do next. Did he have a point? Mid-life crisis?
What had prompted her to resign again? She remembered walking into the office one morning and realizing I don’t want to spend the rest of my life doing this.
What then did she want to do? She turned, her hand on the door knob of Bankole’s office. She should go in there and snatch her job back, negotiate a better deal or something. Really, who resigned from a great job without having concrete plans? Maybe women going through mid-life crisis. Ha, she was going to Google that thing as soon as she got home.
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.
The scripture popped up in her heart; like a Whatsapp notification – unbidden and unexpected.
She took another deep breath, turned away from the door and click-clacked as fast as she could out of the office complex before she changed her mind again.
Her next stop was the hospital. After waking up this morning, she had been unable to go back to sleep. Instead, she had felt an intense urge to pray. She did not know exactly what she was praying for, but as she sat in the Ankara-cane chair in her bedroom, with her Bible on her laps, she remembered the scripture about the Holy Spirit helping to pray. She had taken out her phone and Googled it – Romans 8:26
“And in a similar way, the Holy Spirit takes hold of us in our human frailty to empower us in our weakness. For example, at times we don’t even know how to pray, or know the best things to ask for. But the Holy Spirit rises up within us to super-intercede on our behalf, pleading to God with emotional sighs too deep for words.”
As she read those words, a dam burst open within her and she began to pray. She had felt better afterwards even though she was feeling a bit restless. When last had she woken up in the morning with nowhere to go? She had always thrived on work, a workaholic. Her mother often said that was the reason she wasn’t yet married.
It’s like your work is the first love of your life so you don’t have space for a man.
No man wants to feel like a second option.
She grimaced as she recalled those conversations and the way the words trickled to her heart and settled there, festering.
At the hospital, she parked her car in the spot where a silver Corolla just pulled out from rather slowly.
Her phone rang as she made her way to the building. She looked at it: Yvonne.
“Hey mama, I’m here. Coming in now,” she said.
There was no response, instead a beep beep sound in her ear letting her know the call had ended.
At the front desk, the receptionist – a plump, puffy-eyed woman refused to let her into the ward, claiming she was not family.
Imade loathed confrontation with underpaid members of staff – their bitterness often reflected in their services. She turned away without another word and called Yvonne. When she came out, Imade spotted her, her face tense and drawn into a frown. Without looking at the receptionist, both women entered the hallway leading to the rooms.
“How far? How’s she doing?” Imade asked as they walked side by side. There was a subduedness, a sense fatigue in Yvonne that was unusual.
“She’s awake, eating.”
“Okay? So…what did the results say?”
A huge sigh wracked Yvonne’s body and she stopped abruptly, her body sagging against the wall.
“You know, Ima, I’ve been trying to think of what I did in my past life that is coming back to haunt me,” she whispered, rubbing at her arms.
“No, no, seriously. Like, is my life now a consequence of my previous sins?”
“You know that’s not how God works. Old things have passed away.”
“Have they really?” Yvonne threw a sideways glance at Imade. “Have they? Because you don’t know about all the abortions I had when I was single. Who knows? Maybe that’s why I couldn’t have children early.”
Imade winced, she knew only a little about her friend’s past because Yvonne was not keen on talking about it. “Yvonne, what’s wrong? Why are you saying all this?”
“Olive.” Yvonne brought her palms to her face, covering her eyes. “The test results came back and…”
“She has a blood disorder called Juvenile Pernicious anemia.”
“Perni-what? What’s that?”
Yvonne began to sob.