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ABOVE THE LINE

 

By Suzanne Ushie

 

Saturday, March 26, 2010.

 

Her shoes, though black, had heels the colour of blood. That was the first thing I noticed when Mr. Gbadamosi introduced the new girl after our Progress Meeting.

‘Hi, I’m Moyo,’ she said in an American accent.

 

I realised I was staring, swivelled my chair back to my computer and continued typing. Beside me, Omosefe swivelled hers too and quickly minimised her Facebook page. Mr. Gbadamosi was talking faster than usual; his accent going up a few rungs to match Moyo’s. I thought he sounded constipated.

 

‘Moyo is studying Marketing and Communications at Rutgers University in America.’ He pronounced America loudly for the benefit of those who weren’t listening. My usually laidback male colleagues started pulling in their beer bellies and straightening their starched shirts. Moyo smiled at them with the ease of a woman who was used to flustering men.

 

‘Useless men! They should be ashamed of themselves,’ Omosefe whispered.

 

I didn’t reply because Mr. Gbadamosi was standing beside my desk. He was so close that I could smell the detergent clinging stubbornly to his striped shirt. I was startled when he called my name. After all in the two years I had worked in Venus Advertising, he only spoke to me when he came to monitor the office assistants as they distributed our monthly provisions.

 

‘You should be grateful for everything that management is doing for you. Haba! Do you know how lucky you are to work here?’ He’d say as a squashed packet of Lipton landed on my desk. 

But now he described me as one of the young copywriters in the agency and told Moyo that we were ‘gonna’ be working together. I had never heard him say gonna before. Moyo said a casual hello to me. I wanted to say hello too and achieve the kind of informal politeness that made me feel uncomfortable; the kind my boyfriend Jimi mockingly called swagger but I said welcome instead.

 

When they moved on to another department, Omosefe drew her chair closer to mine.

‘She’s MD’s friend’s daughter. Remember him now? That man who received a national honour. We did a congratulatory ad for him last week,’ she said.

On that day we closed by 10pm because we had to meet the deadline for Punch.

“I remember,’ I replied;  knowing that if I said ‘so?’ like I wanted she wouldn’t let me breathe for the rest of the day.

‘She’s definitely wearing a lace wig,’ she continued, ‘that can’t be her real hair. And did you see her Louboutins? That’s my annual salary on her feet!’

 

 It was pointless to tell her that I didn’t know what Louboutins were, or that I didn’t care to know. Ours was the symbiotic relationship between a copywriter and an art director. I didn’t share her obsession with fashion. Emboldened by the anonymity of the internet, she left catty comments on lifestyle blogs everyday and was steadily building a pile of newspaper fashion inserts in her bedroom. On the other hand, I was blithely unaware that champagne had evolved from a drink into a colour and had a mindset about the Lagos Social Scene that could best be described as tepid. I was more into the budding literary scene, and it wasn’t just because I had done a rather sentimental book review for African Literature Online. But whenever I dragged Jimi to book readings at Silverbird Galleria, he complained of being depressed rather than inspired and was puzzled at the authors’ irritation at being described as African writers in the foreign press.

‘They’re African, aren’t they?’ he’d ask with calm certainty.  

 

 ‘Mr. Gbadamosi has requested for Moyo to be assigned to your team. She’ll be working with you and Omosefe for the next three months.’ Idowu said as I got up to go to the Cafeteria. His shirt was tucked into his pants in a way that was too meticulous to be natural. Sometimes I wondered if his well tended appearance was a way of proclaiming that he wasn’t one of those Creative Directors who wore ripped jeans to work.

 

‘Fine,’ I replied with the same affectation I summoned whenever he said my copy wasn’t punchy. Sometimes when I took print outs of my work to him, he’d draw a crooked margin with tiny arrows and scribble think out of the box and you lost me here or make it punchier. Those comments were enough to drive me to pace under the tall coconut tree in the V-shaped garden and flip frantically through Advertising Copywriting in hope I would be possessed by the inspiration I was so painfully lacking.

 

In the cafeteria, people were clustered around the serving table snapping their fingers and shaking their heads. The cook, a woman whose face was disfigured by deep tribal marks, was standing with arms akimbo and talking in rapid Yoruba. Someone had found a dead fly inside a bowl of stew.

 

‘Madam, this is not fair at all!’ A woman who just got back from maternity leave said.

‘It’s either you leave this agency today or I will,’ the victim, a young man who was notorious for taking long naps in the restroom, said melodramatically.

‘Where is Mr. Gbadamosi? This is an HR matter o! He had better come and see what is happening here,’ a woman who often told Omosefe that her mini skirts were inappropriate for work said. There were threats about boycotting the cafeteria for a fast food restaurant.

 

I slipped past all of them, bought a plate of fried rice and sat on a chair with a torn vinyl cover. Omosefe entered the cafeteria and sat on the chair next to mine.

‘We just like drama in this office. Most of us would go bankrupt if we had lunch outside the agency,’ she scoffed.

 

I didn’t tell her I avoided fast food joints because it pained me that people old enough to be my parents looked at my handbag and said ‘Aunty welcome’ as they held the door open for me. Instead I stared pointedly at the imported apple she was eating.

 

 ‘I’m on a diet,’ she said.

I nodded, pretending not to know that the diet was caused by post-dated cheques given to Mrs. Orji in finance for Brazilian weave-on.

‘Did you hear that the new girl is on our team?’ I asked.

‘Her name is Moyo. I wonder how long she’ll last. Remember the last intern? That Igbo girl who could barely string two lines of copy together. I wonder what they teach them in those foreign universities.’

 

Around us, the people who had earlier threatened to boycott the cafeteria were now eating without the slightest trace of shame. Their tempers had simmered and cooled into talk of a bonus given to the staff of another agency.

‘They gave everyone 20% of their annual salary, even management trainees too,’ the woman who just got back from maternity leave said, her white blouse bearing tiny specks of stew.

‘If I had that kind of money I’d pay my tithe immediately,’ the woman who didn’t like Omosefe’s mini skirts said, her mouth tightly drawn like a Ziploc bag.

 

I listened to them and thought about the things that they left unsaid; like the fact that they could leave Venus Advertising if they wanted. I looked at them and was suddenly filled with the choking fear that I would end up like them one day. Washed up and drenched on a beach of slaughtered dreams.

 

When Jimi picked me up from work that day, we drove to Yaba with the radio tuned to a popular evening show. He claimed to be listening out for routes blocked by traffic but I knew he liked the vernacular spoken on the show. Jimi didn’t understand why some presenters on local radio stations spoke with phoney foreign accents. Once when he mistakenly tuned to one of them, he asked me if I knew what was preventing Nigeria from progressing. I shook my head just because I wanted to hear what he would say.

‘Psychology of the oppressed. And you know what? Until we rid ourselves of this inferiority complex we will keep trying and failing to be like Oyibos,’ he’d said with a chuckle.

Now, as I told him of my fears, he didn’t chuckle. Instead his left eye grew smaller than the right like it always did when he was worried.  

 

‘I wonder what you’re still doing in that old school agency. It’s high time you moved to another agency. But before you do anything make sure you have a good offer o,’ he said.

‘It’s not wise to move like that. It’s been a tough year for a lot of agencies,’ I said.

‘Then do your homework before sending in your CV. That’s what I did before moving to Fortex Bank.’

 

Jimi wasn’t aware that Advertising wasn’t like Banking where recruitment had a semblance of structure. You had to know someone who knew someone else. CVs were worthless. Fresh graduates were the only people who were naive enough to drop theirs off in ad agencies.

‘How about RDL? They just finished shooting one of our TV commercials in SA and I hear it’s very good. I’ll ask one of my friends in corporate comms to talk to their creative director,’ he said.

‘I don’t think I’ll fit in there. I hear they’re too playful,’ I said.

 

‘Just think about it. Idea is need, ‘Jimi said with a one-sided smile as he tapped his bitten fingernails on the wheel. He knew how irritated I got whenever he delivered one of his lame motivational quotes. Yet each time I complained about not getting a Christmas bonus or being forced to pay for a co-worker’s aso ebi he would drop one of them.

When we got to Adebisi Street, he parked across from my house and turned off the engine.

‘See you tomorrow,’ I said as I fumbled with the door in fear that my father was watching from the balcony.

 

‘Relax, there’s no light.’ He slipped his tongue into my mouth and I slipped mine into his mouth too because it would have been weird if I hadn’t. His breath grew heavier and then he bent down and bit my nipple through my shirt. I pushed him away.

‘Sorry,’ he said even though we both knew he wasn’t. He didn’t understand why I behaved as if sex was such a big deal.

‘What are you scared of? After all everyone is doing it,’ he’d said the time I told him I couldn’t just walk into a pharmacy and buy a condom as if it was Panadol.

I got out of the car and went into the house, praying that he hadn’t left saliva on my breast pocket.

 

                                                   ***

We were invited to pitch for Citala Telecoms against four mushroom agencies, those small one-man owned agencies that were springing up like high-rise buildings all over Lagos. Idowu called an impromptu meeting and gave a speech that left me feeling as though I had gone for too long without water.

 

‘Failure is not an option,’ he said with hands outstretched as though he was invoking the spirit of success. ‘Let’s all remember that sometimes the big idea is in the idea itself.’

Omosefe was sketching idly on a sheet of paper and nodding as he spoke. I didn’t need to look closely to know it was a caricature of him. I admired her tenacity. Moyo was staring at him, the whites of her eyes unbelievably clear. Her lips were an unusual shade of purple; like an egg plant. I knew that if I ever wore lipstick that bold, I wouldn’t make it to the bus stop before wiping it off. My bravery with fashion was confined to dipping my braids into a cup of boiling water to create curls. She wore a sequined ankara jacket sewn with strangely coordinating pieces of fabric. Apparently she had missed the memo that said we weren’t allowed to wear traditional attires to work. When Idowu prattled the seemingly intelligent but meaningless winners are not losers, we clapped so loudly that he was startled. I memorised his perplexed expression, right down to the way he stood with his groin thrust out so I would mimic him perfectly when I got home.

 

After the meeting, Omosefe, Moyo and I walked through the corridor lined with the rusty frames that housed the agency’s best print ads and entered the Mothership, a far fetched euphemism for our tiny meeting room with cracked walls and sofas softened by people’s buttocks. I sat on a sofa. Omosefe sat on the floor and the band of her trousers sagged to reveal the flesh-toned Spanx underneath. Moyo looked at an empty sofa warily and leaned on the wall; clearly taken aback by the unapologetic ugliness of the room. I wondered how she felt, thrown into this unbalanced world of ours where copy didn’t mean you were trying to be like someone else. Against the light streaming in through the window blinds, her highlighted hair resembled a ripe plantain. It fell on her neck with the balanced precision of flat ironing.

 

 ‘So what do we do now?’ she asked.

‘Whatever it is you people do in America,’ Omosefe replied.

I wished I were closer to her so that I would pinch her hard. I made up for it by eyeing her and she laughed.       

‘Now we have to come up with ideas and flesh them out,’ I said.

‘Flesh them out?! What does that mean?’ Moyo’s eyebrows arched daintily.

Wahala!’  Omosefe said and started laughing. Again, I wanted to pinch her.

‘That means we’ll see if they are strong enough to be executed on TV, press, radio and other media,’ I said to Moyo.

‘Wow! Advertising in Nigeria is so backwards. Back in The States we’re all about new media and viral marketing. TV, press and radio are so 1999.’

‘You mean you worked in an ad agency in America?’  Omosefe’s brittleness now stank of awe.

‘Yeah. I interned in Y&R New York last summer. It was cool.’  Moyo said.

 

It wasn’t until the wood inside the chair started eating into my skin that I realised several hours had gone by. At least we had some good ideas, I thought, surprisingly pleased at my efforts. In truth, if we won the Citala account it would revive our pathetic bank balance. During our last Town Hall Meeting, the finance director made a PowerPoint presentation with slide after slide proving that our clients owed us millions because of the economic recession. From the way he paused before saying recession carefully, you could tell he had just learnt the word. We all knew that the money was in Telecoms. An industry expert had even published a patronising article in Ad News titled How Telecoms Saved the Nigerian Advertising Industry.  It may have been a lump of bullshit but money didn’t stink.

 

‘I wonder what I’m going to eat. I doubt if there’s any food left in the cafeteria.’ Omosefe said as she dusted off a fleck of lint from her skirt with a plastic fingernail.

‘Why don’t you join me? I’m going to Jade Garden for lunch. My driver is waiting outside,’ Moyo said.

I saw the struggle between pride and hunger in Omosefe’s eyes.

‘Don’t worry. I’ll eat when I get home,’ she said.

‘Oh please, don’t be silly. Lunch is on me.’ Moyo made silly sound like an endearment. ‘It’ll be awesome.’

‘Okay,’ Omosefe said, too graciously for my liking. I watched them leave, peeved at not being invited to a restaurant where I would be too appalled at the price list to take delicate sips of chicken noodle soup.

During lunch the next day, Moyo was all Omosefe talked about. How she had mistakenly paid in dollars at Jade Garden. How her fair skin was nature given. How she flew to London every other weekend to visit her boyfriend. As she talked the faces around the table became more animated. Faces with over-plucked eyebrows belonging to young female models who came to audition for a TV commercial. It was odd because the brief we sent to the modelling agency clearly stated that the role was for a woman in her mid thirties. 

 

She’s lucky o. What does her father do? How much does she earn? So she has gone to Jade Garden again?! Why didn’t you follow her now? Their voices rose and fell with an eagerness borne out of the anxiety that their names would disappear from the casting list if they didn’t ask. Omosefe played with the limp strand of beads on her pimply chest and answered their questions with an all knowing smile. As I sat there smelling the peppery stew on their breaths, I hoped I wouldn’t have to sleep over in the agency. It was almost inevitable during pitches. The first time I had to work overnight, I called my father and explained why I wouldn’t be coming home. Yet the next morning he still showed up in the agency with a mobile policeman, startling the drowsy security men and embarrassing me.

‘Have you been drinking?’ he’d asked as he stared in shock and concern at my Red Bull induced bright eyes. I stared back in silence because I had morning breath. It became a joke in the agency.

 ‘Don’t touch her o! Her father will bring Mopol for you,’ one person would say while another giggled.

 

Back in my office, I found a miniature Mars bar on my keyboard; a gift from the latest returnee from abroad. An office assistant was going about purposefully with a neon green shopping bag filled with duty free chocolates.  

 

‘Pick only one,’ he said as he moved from desk to desk, head held illogically high as he gave orders to people who earned three times more than he did. People moaned and mumbled about how much they loathed the tiresome tradition yet still took more than they were asked to.  

 

When my computer finally responded – it was always hanging - I opened my email box and found several unread messages waiting. I spammed the emails offering me free Viagra and deleted the Bible readings from my born again co-workers until I got to an email marked with high importance from Idowu. I opened it and found out he had approved one of our proposed ideas for the Citala Pitch. It was Moyo’s big idea themed Moments Like These. It was okay as far as ideas went but I thought it was flowery. I had been certain that Idowu wouldn’t like it but as it turned out, I was wrong. He’d even typed now this is more like it in some gothic-like font. Perhaps it was a font specially designed for Creative Directors, I thought spitefully.  When Omosefe came back to the office a few minutes later, her chest was rising and falling faster than usual. Behind her, Moyo’s heels were clicking on the terrazzo floor.

 

‘What did we miss? We went on a stroll around the estate.’ Omosefe shouted to be heard over the music playing from a PC. Her weave on took a wavy tumble down her back as she scratched her scalp with a pointed hairpin. She had a fresh sweat patch in her underarm.  

‘It was awesome. Clara’s joining us after lunch tomorrow. You should come too, it’s good exercise.’ Moyo said as she unbuttoned yet another embellished ankara jacket. Her breath was even and her foundation wasn’t congealed. She must have mastered the art of exercising gracefully.

‘Who’s Clara?’ I asked in confusion.

‘That lady in finance. She’s so nice!’ Moyo said.

 

It was hard to see Mrs. Orji as nice. She had shrewd eyes, sold everything from Italian gold to discounted clothes from Primark and used a shade of powder that was too light for her chocolate skin. When they huddled around my computer and read Idowu’s email, Moyo pumped her fists as though we had just won the Cannes Lion Grand Prix.

‘So what do we do now?’ she asked.

‘Whatever it is you people do in America,’ I couldn’t help but say. Omosefe lifted an eyebrow and mouthed what’s wrong with you?

‘Oh - kay!’ Moyo threw back a haughty head.

 ‘Let’s start with press. Come up with headlines and bring them to me in say’ - I made a show out of checking the wall clock - ‘an hour.’

Her eyes held mine for a few seconds then she strutted back to her desk and sat down with an elegant thud.

 Exactly one hour later, I looked up at her. She was typing on her MacBook Pro and there was something about the long leanness of her legs and the unforced elegance of her posture that made me think of perfection.

 

‘Do you have anything for me?’ I felt a little silly as I spoke to her.  She got up and went to the printer with a controlled gait that spoke of defiance. Then she dumped the print out on my computer keyboard and leaned on my desk with one leg propped up against my drawers. I skimmed through and shook my head when I didn’t find anything I could salvage.

‘You’re not there yet. Let’s meet in thirty minutes,’ I said.

‘What do you mean by you’re not there yet? Is it my fault that my idea was chosen and yours wasn’t?’

 The music skipped to a halt. An art director nudged another and yelled ‘girl fight!’

‘Look,’ I took a deep breath. ‘It’s nothing personal. Your copy just isn’t working. You’re trying too hard and it shows. Let’s sit down together and - ’

‘Fuck you!’ There was a quiet dignity with which she said fuck that made it sound mundane rather than vulgar.

 ‘You’re been very mean to me. What the hell is your problem?’ Her eyes glittered like the sequins on her jacket.

 

I once watched a foreign talk show about a woman whose nose had been chopped off by her ex-husband was interviewed. When someone in the audience asked her how it felt to live without a nose, she said she felt naked. That’s exactly how I felt. Naked. Like someone had peeled off my clothes and tossed me into a bull fight arena. But we weren’t in a bull fight arena. We were in an open plan office with flickering fluorescent lights. I thought of a million things to say in comeback. I saw the expectant faces of my colleagues turn hazy before me. But when I opened my mouth nothing came out. Later, I would tell Jimi that I had been overwhelmed and he would dismiss my excuse with a reverential ‘You mean she actually told you “fuck you” right there? The girl has got balls man!’

When Omosefe took Moyo into an adjoining office in the aftermath, she comforted her in an oily voice that made my lips purse in disgust. Everyone else either went back to work or sat in a safe corner and told me what I should or shouldn’t have done.

‘Don’t mind her, my dear. That’s how they behave over there,’ a senior copywriter with dreadlocks said to me. I smiled at her as though it made perfect sense.

 

Perhaps Moyo was right, I thought as Jimi drove me home from work that evening. Perhaps I was too uptight, too afraid to live. I stared at him as he drove, at the dark shaving bumps smattering his jaw line and the crumpled blue tie I gave him on his birthday; and wondered if I stuck with him because I really liked him or simply because I was scared of having to grow accustomed to another man.

 

‘Why are you so quiet? I hope you’re not thinking about that spoilt brat,’ he said as he made a quick diversion into an untarred road to dodge a police checkpoint. It was past eleven and at that time of the night, our usual decoy of exchanging contrived pleasantries with policemen would have delayed us. I told him I was fine. But there was something in my voice that made him turn and look at me, that made me more aware that the stick shift was the only thing separating us, that made him park the car and lift up my skirt. As he moved inside me, I held on to his shoulders and threw back my head, not caring whether or not it hit the steering wheel. I closed my eyes and freed my mind from briefs and pitches and deadlines. I did not shower when he dropped me off a while later. But I did go to bed with a warm stickiness between my legs and the scent of him on my skin.

 

 

***

The sweets sat haphazardly in a saucer at the centre of the table; close enough to tempt you but far enough to make you look greedy if you reached for one. We sat around the table in the conference room, each of us waiting for the next person to reach for one first.  In front of the room, the projector light threw a blue ethereal glow on Idowu’s face.  He was making a presentation as smooth as the inches of mahogany spread before us. Our MD was quiet as Idowu spoke. Time and again something - a nod, a smile, a frown – would show he was listening. 

‘Nice one guys! But we have to increase the logo. These Citala guys are Arab, you know. Let’s stroke their egos a bit,’ he said when Idowu got to the last slide.

 

‘Definitely!’ said the account director, a tall man with a close shaven head. ‘Anyhow I know we’ll make it. God doesn’t forget his own,’ he continued as though our competitors didn’t believe in God. Before coming to Venus Advertising, he worked in a small agency as a copywriter, account manager and media planner. Occasionally he made grovelling comments that showed how thankful he was to work in Venus.

 

 In a way, we were alike. I too had grown complacent. That was what I had told the Creative Director of RDL when he asked me why I had stayed in Venus Advertising for four years as he scrolled through my portfolio on his laptop. I studied my reflection in one of the award plaques that stood proudly on his cluttered desk as I replied.

‘I see,’ he said; but as he sat there with his pierced ears and took in the severe twist of my newly braided hair, I knew that he didn’t.

‘We’ll get back to you; via email of course. We like to do things differently around here,’ he said with an intellectual smile. As I left his office with my head lowered to avoid being seen by anyone who knew me, I was quite sure they wouldn’t contact me.

 ‘Amen!’ Idowu said loudly and nudged me back to the conference room. It was followed by a hum of the sort of mild laughter you’d hear at a dinner party with pampered guests who secretly hated each other.

 

‘Don’t mind us. We’re not usually like this,’ the account director said to Moyo. She smiled back and tapped the table with a metallic fingernail. With her deeply rouged cheeks, she reminded me of the Babushka dolls on the mantelpiece in my living room. Beside her, Omosefe wore a yellow Alice band that enhanced her scanty hairline. Stripped of the artificial volume of weave-on, her head seemed too small for her body. The air conditioner was furiously puffing cold air into the room. I rubbed my cold arms against my palms hardened by years of sanitising copy and willed the gooseflesh on them to disappear.

‘Good job, Idowu,’ our MD said.

 ‘Don’t thank me. Moyo here,’ Idowu looked at her tenderly ‘came up with the brilliant idea you just saw.’

‘Beauty and brains. What a great combination!’  Our MD exclaimed as though the notion of a beautiful, intelligent woman was alien. He drew back his chair and jolted the sweets from the comfort of their saucer.

‘Now I’m convinced that we’re in a good place. Let’s tie up the loose ends tonight. We won’t have time to review before we leave tomorrow morning.’ He was typing absently on his BlackBerry and moving on to the next meeting as he walked out of the room.

 

There was no mention of the copy I had written or the layouts that Omosefe had forfeited several lunches to design. I looked into her eyes and didn’t see the censure I expected; but a sliver of sadness instead. Idowu thumped Moyo’s back softly and said well done. She acted as though it meant nothing but in the slight lift of her shoulders and the excited finger she ran down her slim neck, I sensed that it did.

‘Would you like to model for us?’ Idowu asked her. ‘We’ve been trying to download an image for one of the press ads since yesterday but the server has been acting up. And you fit the profile. Or what do you guys think?’ he turned to Omosefe and I.

 

I was too surprised that he had sought my opinion to reply. Omosefe said fine but if he had listened carefully, he’d have heard the rumble of envy beneath. I remained seated while everyone else began to leave the room.

‘Do you think that what Idowu did is fair?’ Omosefe asked me when we were the only two left in the room.

‘What did he do?’ I asked.

Na wa for you o! Were you sleeping during the review?’

 

She hurried after me as I walked out of the room. Our shoes pounded an uneven beat on the floor as we walked beside the walls that flaunted the unbridled dreams of copywriters past.

‘Are you angry with me because of what happened the other day? Sorry for not having your back when that girl insulted you.’ Moyo had become “that girl”. It was a remarkable leap from the hours they’d spent gossiping and giggling in the restroom while they touched up their make up.  

‘See,’ I said tersely, unable to mask my impatience for her fickle friendship. ‘I’m only upset because we’re sleeping over tonight.’

 

‘Okay. But I hope you’re not angry with me sha,’ she said.

 That evening, when I realised I had typed the same sentence twice, I put my hand on my forehead. It was hot and hard. I looked up to see Moyo standing beside my desk.

‘Hey,’ she said. ‘I was just wondering if I could help you with anything.’

‘No thanks. I’m almost done,’ I said. It was the first time we had spoken since the showdown. She lingered for a while and I thought that she was going to say something. But she went back to her seat and started shutting down her laptop.

‘How I wish my father were a big man,’ Omosefe said when she was gone.  

‘Why are you so quiet?’ she asked when I didn’t reply.

‘I’m tired of people asking me why I’m quiet,’ I snapped.

‘Sorry now. Are we quarrelling?’ she asked.

 

We worked until we couldn’t see the cars in the parking lot through the window blinds anymore.  Music blared loudly from the speakers to prevent us from falling asleep. Idowu was throwing random “crop that image properly” and “start compiling the creatives” about when my phone rang. I knew it was Jimi even before I checked the cracked screen.

 ‘Are you guys through?’ His voice was distorted by static.

‘Don’t I wish? We’re sleeping here.’

 ‘Please don’t fall asleep o. I don’t trust those men in your office,’ he said. I laughed gently for fear my aching head would burst.

 

‘By the way have you heard from RDL?’ he asked when I stopped laughing.

‘I haven’t and I know I won’t.’ I didn’t want to think about the interview.

‘Stop talking like that. I’m very sure we will. But if we don’t hear anything by the end of the week I’ll ask my friend in corporate comms what’s going on.’  I smiled when he said ‘we’ instead of ‘you’. 

‘Seriously Jimi you don’t have to do that, I’m fine.’ I protested even though I secretly hoped he would. ‘I have to go now, I’ll see you tomorrow. Bye.’ I hung up before he could say anything else.

‘That was your boyfriend abi? When are you two getting married?’ Omosefe asked.

‘Even if we get married you won’t be invited,’ I said.

She seemed surprised; more by the fact that I had answered than by the reply itself.

‘You’re acting weird,’ she kept looking at her computer and then at me until her eyes began to water.

‘So which of you is coming for the presentation?’ Idowu asked when it started growing bright outside.

‘Omosefe and I won’t be able to make it because we have a brief that’s due today. But it’s okay if Moyo represents the team. After all she came up with the idea,’ I said quickly, hoping Omosefe would keep her mouth shut just this once.

Idowu frowned as he considered it.

‘Fine then,’ he said. ‘Tell her to get ready as soon as she comes in. I’m going home to shower. See you guys soon.’

 

His hand was already on the knob when he suddenly looked back. ‘By the way you guys have really impressed me with this one. Well done.’

As I watched him leave, I felt as if someone had cooled my scorching tongue with a block of ice.

I felt Omosefe watching me as I struck away on my keyboard and gave life to the Creative Rationale for an idea I didn’t conceive. Gradually the office became filled with the sounds and smells of morning. Coffee and fresh akara and the comforting whirr of the DeskJet printer. The door opened and the insistent click of Moyo’s shoes announced her arrival.

 

‘Hi guys, how did it go?’ She said as she opened a suede laptop bag.  

‘Well, we survived. And guess what? You’re going for the presentation,’ Omosefe said.

‘What?!’ Moyo asked with surprise and fear. I saw Omosefe’s head straighten and knew that she revelled in the panicked flush of her cheeks.

‘Jeez! What if they ask me a question I can’t answer? They won’t do that, will they?’ Her green questions betrayed her anxiety.

‘They may not,’ Omosefe gave a little shrug. ‘But clients can be funny. Anyway, Idowu said we should tell you to get ready. You guys have to get to the island before 11.’

 

I sat there with my slippery underarms and watched Moyo twiddle a strand of her hair and pretended as though I wasn’t delighted too.

I gave her the print outs of the creatives, and told her that sometimes clients asked randomly humiliating questions, and that if they said they were impressed it wasn’t likely to be true. When she left the office, I leaned back on my chair slowly. Then I saw the email from RDL with Offer of Employment in the subject line; and stifled a smile as I listened to the distant voices arguing over which routes to Victoria Island were less likely to be blocked by traffic.

 

 

***

Copyright Suzanne Ushie

 

Suzanne Ushie is a Lagos, Nigeria-based writer.

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