I WILL NOT GO THE WAY OF MARTHA
“Sir, I will not quit my job, I love it here.”
Madeline slowly lifted her eyes from her desk as she said that, to meet Demola’s, half-glittering. He had expected a gratitude-laden reaction.
They were in her office on the third floor. He had actually walked in, a rare privilege even if it was official close of work .
“I’m a bit blank, please fill me in on the details.” That was genuine, as far as Madeline could tell, and, for once, shorn of its usual heavy air of authority.
Which somewhat impressed Madeline, but not to the point of capitulation. For she knew what was coming; she decoded, to the end of their spiral, both his words and the very gesture of entering her office rather than summoning her upstairs.
Hardly anyone had had to see the gold-laced ID card which declared him the Chief Operating Officer of Fleezers Group, what was glaring to all was that he carried himself with insufferable conceit. His ‘Demol’ perfume announced his itinerary long after the fact. From a particular point of view, he was the post powerful man in Fleezers. The Chairman, Elder Zebedee (Zeb) Ayodele-Vasquez, having his eye on other businesses, had effectively handed the management of the organization to his heir apparent Ayo Ayodele-Vasquez Jr not, in the opinion of many, because he (Ayo Jr) has a BA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics(PPE) from the London School of Economics topped with two MBA’s from American ivy leagues, but because he possessed the critical degree of BBA-V (Born by Ayodele-Vasquez) . But Ayo Jr was no fool. Which was why he loved life and had added two boat clubs to the Lagos Motor Boat Club which he bought at an auction, tripling the highest bidder’s offer. While many saw the motor club acquisitions as a leisure thing, one of his indulgences, Ayo’s goggled eyes saw only dollars and naira, the benefit of relaxation it offers being added bonus. But nothing testified to his no-fool status than his good sense in appointing Demola the COO of Fleezers.
Since Demola’s arrival, poached from the rival El-Hadj Hamidu Conglomerate, Ayo Jr had remained MD/CEO only in name. But he was not complaining, for not only did Demola give him 101 per cent of his ‘respects’, he also exceeded performance targets which, thankfully, were still set by Ayo Jr. In three years, the value of Fleezers stock had shot up 300 percent, outperforming the market by some light years. It was a performance that should have invited the hard scrutiny of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Instead, the regulators were themselves star struck by what was dubbed ‘the Fleezers phenomenon’ . Facts-behind-the-figures outings became occasions chiefly for exchange of banters and gift packages. As for the facts and figures, pie charts, bar charts and histograms spoke in eye-catching eloquence.
Which had made Demola an untouchable and his advances to the womenfolk un-turn-down-able. A point that, sadly, Madeline was yet to grasp.
“You know all the details, sir,” she said, defensively folding her arms across her waist and boldly meeting his gaze, a Kilimanjaro-climbing feat. Her soft leather handbag sat on her dark blue hand pleated skirt, providing additional safeguards in case his eyes lost their manners. Many of her colleagues wore gemstones – diamond, emerald, jade, topaz; she had none, but it was obvious that she herself was hewn out of one – grace stones. The rouge pigment neck-scarf that wound its way round her neck did a good job of suppressing her cleavage rage, a situation she had to be constantly alert to, in view of her rather benevolent endowments. Nor did she mind that many took that for a fashion statement and even tried to copy.
Demola was not used to retorts and ripostes, having become accustomed to ‘ok sir, ‘yes sir’ and ‘right away sir’ kind of response from the lower floors of the 10-floor Fleezers Plaza. He wondered whether he had not made himself clear enough or whether Madeline was playing hard to get.
For once, his first class brain failed him. “I’m blank”, he said, honestly, stepping further into the room and taking in the surreal orderliness of the place. Madeline’s own copy of the Fleezers World desk diary, signature-customized, lay exactly in the middle of the right hand edge of her table, with her in-tray empty. The table itself was well polished, giving an angular reflection of her image each time she bent or stretched over it.
Madeline felt the hurt of his words. I’m blank. The discourse had already assumed an unofficial hue, an air of familiarity so alien it was like an implant to the supple skin that belied her 30 years . to her sensibilities. As if programmed for her rescue, the left fourth finger that ported her wedding ring was in an exposé mode, and she rather made it look like a display, in that position, hoping he would read the loud statement it put out. But, no, he was rather captivated by the shape of the fingers themselves. The nails were unpainted, but their allure was irresistible. She must have a private manicurist, but even that could not have accounted for the faultless ending to their tapering statement. If she was a balance sheet, the key item on her credit side was probably the middle finger. Its beauty arrested the rove of his eyes; a cute crescent at the base of the nail was like a golden seal that closed the deal in a divinely orchestrated transaction between the cuticle and the finger base. No, this is not right; it’s unfair. To outfit a single individual in such haunting proportions. Yet she never flaunted them, unlike many ladies he knew who had far less excitable credentials.
Demol perfume hung in the air. Like a curtain, portioning them in different humours.
Madeline’s mind was doing a fast recall of the Martha matter. Her sack two months earlier was never blamed on her direct supervisor Dan, because, well, of course she couldn’t measure up at the appraisal, having slipped into the ‘Needs Improvement’ category twice in a row. Even if it wasn’t Dan, any other supervisor would have sacked her. It’s all system based. There was even talk of ‘10th Floor’ not happy about her sack, being a borderline case. Everyone of course knew that left to Demola, Martha would still be wearing the pink flowered muffler of Fleezers . Everybody, except Madeline. She knew that the grapevine that fed everybody’s appetite was actually watered by a benevolent dew, and that sometimes, someone could be behind that benevolence. Madeline had since learnt to distrust the obvious. Same attitude she had to statistics. Life is round, not a set of squares. Certainly not zeros and ones. Least of all yeses and nos. Nothing follows another with infallible regularity. The human hunch is infinitely more discerning than anything punched out of a machine. A sentence may be finished on paper, but never to the human ear; there is always another meaning to the stated, or even unstated one. She knew, without any iota of proof of course, that Martha was done in, and that Dan was only the fall guy. Or worse, a willing accomplice redefining the concept of corporate loyalty. And Martha a sacrificial proof of it.
But her obstinacy had an allure, akin to satanic, to Demola, like a booze overdose that draws the drunk into deeper draught of the same deranger.
Maybe I’ll fire her. Watch her life go miserable after a few months, set her up for another job, then pick her.
He passed the tip of his tongue in-between his lips cobra-like. It’s been long he actually chased a woman, for real, except for his wife Tinu, not then, but now; now that feminine perfumes assail her each time he came home late from his various ‘meetings’. Part of her pain was the realization that those perfumes were bought with her husband’s money.
Demola’ charm had never failed him; not with ladies. Most of them needed no ‘charm’ anyway, seeing a surfeit of it in his current position and even more in where he was destined in the nation’s corporate ladder. But as he wanted to step further in, his right foot, enwrapped in suede, was already pointing door-wards. Until his mind quickly reminded him who he was. In his days as a rookie consultant at Price Waterhouse they had been taught to dominate their environment. Swagger was to be in every footstep, charm in every speech. It was a crime to be ordinary. Are you humble? Try a few pills, you’ll be ok. He had excelled in that space-bound voyage then, as a mere rookie. Now at least five points would separate him from Madeline on the current organogram, and she was wired to ‘yes’ up to his requests, like every one of them. Truth is, he had not made any, so what was she saying a de facto ‘no’ to?
“Was the budget template fully populated?”
Tactical retreat. Was it smart enough to have elicited her earlier response? Or , or to cast her as dumb? She remembered her pastor calling the word a sword: sword of the spirit, word of God. Were these particular set of words – built around budget template – offensive or rather defensive? Effective thinking was difficult with his pupils staring down at her as if they refracted not just the light between them but also his own thinking, to keep them from her. She had to quickly settle for a position: they were meant to be a soft landing. For her or him, or both? It had better be for you, I don’t need your favours!
In that trumped up question was hidden the presupposition that she hadn’t heard him the first time. The phantom first time. The atmosphere was not just not-friendly, it was clumsy in a weird sort of way, full of masked hostility. Words were spoken, or rather released only after a full compliance audit. A battle to find the ones that did not run fowl of corporate culture – and civility, but which did not point to a capitulation.
“O yes sir. The DCIO saw to that.”
And he was gone. Not out of Fleezers, like Martha. But upstairs.
Demol perfume hung in the air, thick, like a third person, a witness to their unwelcome tryst.
Madeline was lost in thought. The budget talk was, of course, a ruse. He already had all the details, literally at his blackberry fingertips. So what was the point of his visit? Fulfillment of a prophecy foretold. Was this the sort of prelude to Martha’s fall? Could there possibly be a whiff of this at the next appraisal? Could anything concrete be established against her? Madeline’s own universal genius brain went into a conspiracy theory and tried to think up what a possible antagonist’s best case against her might be. She lacks concentration. Hmn. So that’s why I didn’t hear him, enh? Well I don’t hear phantom words, or sentences. Mine were real. And if, as his subsequent words had suggested, he hadn’t heard them, then someone must be having a hearing problem, a variant of the living-in-denial syndrome.
That person is not me. Whatever you are up to on the tenth floor, one thing is certain: I will not go the way of Martha.