13 YEARS AGO
“Tonight we become legends.” Austin said as he handed me a file. I smiled as I flipped through the pages. “You should be thrilled. A simple smile for making partner?”
I took my seat and turned on the laptop. “This isn’t my lifelong dream.” I replied as I checked through my laptop.
“You have got to be kidding me! Anyone would kill to be partner here. I know how it is.” He replied, organising my desk. “By the way, did you collect the extra invitation cards?”
I swallowed as he mentioned the Invitation Card. I shook my head and refocused on the system. “I won’t need it, my parents are dead.”
Austin went to shut the door and returned to his seat. “Just to make sure that we are alone.” He started as he adjusted his buttons. “What about your husband? You have not said anything about him since that money issue.”
“That’s an issue that I would not want to re-visit and I have told you not to talk about it anymore.” I replied as I passed him a document. “Omololu and I had a big misunderstanding last month and we haven’t spoken since then.”
Austin nodded. “You were not quite the angel from what I saw.” He started. “When you sent him that envelope, you should have expected that. He only wanted to be with you.”
“All I wanted was for her to come down to Ibadan, but she was always giving me excuses.”
Olivia adjusted her jacket as she paced round me. “Lagos is a busy place.”
“Ibadan is busy. And for the record I still don’t understand what the hype is around Lagos. People work in Ibadan too, you know.”
She nodded. “I understand your angle quite clearly, but you have been in Lagos for a week now and it has been difficult for you to track your wife.”
“I have her phone number, I don’t just know if I should call her or not.”
She smiled. “What do you want, Lolu?”
“I want her to call me, we last spoke since a month and she hasn’t even called back and she was the reason why we had a problem in the first place.”
“Do you know why I am single?” she asked.
I leaned back in my seat. “You have not found the perfect man? Because, you are an amazing woman and any man would love to be with you.”
She laughed. “Wrong!”
“Then why are you single?”
She folded her arms and stared at me. “My husband left me.”
My face went cold as I stared at her. “Why…Why would he do that?”
“He…He said he had dreams, he wanted to pursue them. He said that this clinic was depressing, I had to deal with depressed walls every day, I would come here and stare at the empty seats and talk to them as though they were my patients, and he also said that he couldn’t stand me almost psychoanalyzing every one of his moves. ”
I ran my finger across my beards. “That’s ridiculous.”
“It isn’t.” she replied with a smile. “I was the ridiculous one and you know why? I…I never fought for him. I was too consumed in this place.” She continued as she walked round the office. “Oh you should have seen this place then, it was a shack and really hopeless, but, I believed in it and I stayed true to my dream and today, I have real patients.”
“Your husband is a real fool, he is the one who lost.”
She smiled. “I understand you trying to make me feel better, but the truth is, I should have tried to make my marriage work, now, that’s my past. He has a new life and a new family and I am here all alone, the essence of what I am saying is that you shouldn’t let your wife go just like that. You should fight for her.”
“Why did she send money?” I asked.
“Come on, Austin, It wasn’t my call. The Chairman wouldn’t let me go home and how else could I show that I was sorry?”
Austin cleared his throat. “Ijeoma, no man wants a woman making him feel less than a man.”
“That was not my intention. I had to do something to at least fix the fact that I couldn’t go to Ibadan.”
He nodded in agreement. “I understand what you are trying to say, but the fact is a simple and genuine apology would have changed it.”
“He yelled at me on the phone, I had a busy day and I am sure that he has no idea of what busy means.” I retorted angrily.
Austin swallowed. “Ijeoma, I…I don’t know what to say anymore, but what I mustn’t hold back from you is that, this…everything here has changed you.”
I nodded. “You are damn right, I have changed. When you come from where I come from, you would know what it is like.”
“But that’s the point.” Austin interrupted.
He clenched his teeth. “You don’t remember where you came from.”
“She offered me money for not coming to see me and our daughter. That bruised my ego.”
Olivia smiled faintly. “In this life, we would always suffer and people would hurt us, we just have to choose who is worth hurting for…who said that anyway?” she asked as she chuckled.
“Thank you, Olivia.”
She nodded. “So what are you gonna be doing tonight? I think you should call your wife and try to make up with her.”
“You think so?” I asked.
“I think you should look for her, but before that, I am starving and I think we should go for lunch.” She said, grabbing her handbag.
The Chairman accessed my cheque as he slipped it into a file. “Welcome to Partner.”
I smiled confidently. “Thank you sir.”
“I don’t have to remind you of the rules, you can’t have any holiday for at least a year, so you know that pregnancy is out of the question.”
I nodded in agreement. “I am fully aware of that.”
“In that case, are you ready for the big night?” he asked as he slipped into his jacket. “I could never forget this time of my life when it happened as Chairman, I don’t think you’ll ever forget tonight either.”
“I promise to do my best here.” I said.
He smiled. “I know that, you have never given anything less since the day you stepped into this place.” He replied. “You know, in the business world, some people want to get to the top but have no idea of how to get there. You knew what to do. You knew what to give up.”
“It’s okay, sometimes; we have to take our destinies in our hands. No attachment.” He replied with a grin and walked out.
My face went cold and I slipped into a chair as I dwelled on his words.
“You know what I loved most about the food?” I asked as we stepped out of the restaurant.
Olivia smiled. “What could go wrong with Pounded yam?”
She laughed. “You know I feel so awkward having to eat that kind of food during lunch break. If I sleep during my sessions, I am coming for your head.”
“I am not scared.” I replied as we walked down the streets.
She smiled. “When are you going to call her?”
“I’ll call her soon. Maybe tonight.”
“If you will ever meet up with her, change your shirt.”
I stared at my shirt. “What is wrong with this shirt?”
“Everything! And your pants too! Christ! And this stupid shoe of yours, what happened to Italian shoes?”
I scoffed. “Italian shoe? Where am I supposed to get the money from? I love my Pants and Shirts, I think they are cool.”
“They are not cool.” She replied as we stopped at her car.
I leaned against the door as she tried to open hers. “Ijeoma loves me and everything I do, she’ll love my clothes.”
“I am not Ijeoma.” She replied smiling. “And if your next question is how did I have the nerve to sit on the same table with you at lunch, here’s the answer, I maintained the serious look, anyone could have guessed you were my patient.”
She nodded. “Yeah, really interesting. Just ensure you get a shirt when you want to see her.”
I smiled and joined her in the car. “Can I take your car too?”
“No way!” she replied with a smile. “Of course you can.”
I shook my head. “I don’t want to drive.”
“Or rather, you can’t.” she replied as she started the car.
“I don’t like this dress.” I said as I stood before Austin.
He stared at it. “I think it’s great.”
“It is not. There is too much cleavage.”
He took a deep breath. “I like it.”
“You are a pervert.” I replied and returned into the dress room. “What about this? I think I love it.”
He looked uninterested. “I don’t.”
“What do you mean? The gown is beautiful.” I replied.
He shrugged. “Let me be the judge, that’s why you brought me here, isn’t it?”
I protested. “I like the dress”
“Well I don’t” he replied as he flipped through a magazine. “I have to use the gents” he said as he walked away.
Austin walked round the Men section as he left the bathroom, staring at some shirts. He then stopped as he spotted at a man (Omololu) staring through the window from the outside. Austin tapped on a blue shirt and beckoned on to him. Omololu shrugged and walked away with a smile.
“When I give you this news I have, you are going to kiss me!” Olivia said with a smile as I walked in.
I raised an eyebrow. “Kiss?”
“Well, I meant that figuratively. So, I just got off the phone with my brother and he said he has a dinner party to attend tonight and guess what or who the party is about?”
I placed the gift bag in my hand on the chair. “I haven’t met your brother yet, have I?”
“Well, not yet. But soon enough, you will. Anyway, let me skip the preamble, the dinner party is to host the new partner of one of the biggest consortiums in Lagos and guess who the new partner is?”
I relaxed in the seat. “My Long lost father?”
“Amazing sense of humour. Her name is Ijeoma Martins.”
My heart froze as I stared at her. She was all smiles. “What are you saying?”
“I asked for a picture just to confirm it.” She replied. “She did match the photo of your wife, just that she looks sophisticated and all, nothing like that picture you have.”
My face fell. “Why didn’t she tell me?”
Olivia took her seat beside me. “Lolu, it is not a big deal.”
I flared up. “It is a big deal! She is everything to me, why won’t she tell me about this?”
“You guys had an argument, maybe, she didn’t want to piss you off.” She replied.
I grabbed my phone. “She just did.” I replied as I walked out.
I walked hand in hand with Austin into in the hall.
“Why are you so nervous?” he whispered into my ear.
I stared at him. “I am not.”
“Yes, you are. Your palms are sweaty.”
I yanked my hand carefully from his grip. “They are not sweaty.”
“Smile for the Chairman approaches” He said through his clenched teeth.
I feigned a smile as we greeted the Chairman. “You look stunning tonight, Ms Martins.” The Chairman started.
“Mrs Martins” I corrected with a smile.
He nodded. “Interesting.”
Austin cleared his throat. “I’ll go and get a drink, want one?” he asked staring at me.
“Yes, please.” I replied. With that, Austin walked away.
The Chairman stared at me with a smile. “How come I have never heard about the famous Mr Martins? The Press might want to take photos when this thing is over.”
“He is out of the country.” I lied. “He has a lot of business to deal with and most especially he is doing what we can’t do when we work here.”
He smiled. “And what is that?”
“He is being a Father.” I replied as I picked a drink from one of the attendants as he passed with a tray. I couldn’t wait any longer for Austin. The Chairman had never been easy to stomach.
He cleared his throat as he continued. “The funny thing is that I am a good father.”
“You flatter yourself, sir.” I replied as I replaced the glass on the table near us.
He adjusted his tie. “This company is doing well because of people like you and I am really grateful, but, I don’t appreciate the tone you use with me.”
I nodded. “Really? There comes Mr Gabriel, let’s see whether he appreciates the tone or not.” I replied. “Mr Gabriel” I said courteously as he joined us.
“Ijeoma, I am so grateful for the deal you helped my company with, we are forever indebted to you.”
I smiled in the Chairman’s direction. “You are welcome, sir.”
Mr Gabriel exchanged greetings with the Chairman and walked away. I turned in his direction. “Sir, what were you saying about my tone? Oh…that’s a ‘sir’, sounds better, right?” I asked sarcastically and walked away.
I nodded as I walked into the exquisite hall. Olivia didn’t see me leave the house and I didn’t see myself leaving too, I just made up mind and left the house. I felt like a fish on dry land instantly as I tried to adjust my collar; intimidated by the sharp black tuxedos that darted across the room. I had picked a blue shirt and carton brown trouser as an only option.
There was a sudden rush and announcement over the microphone. A sudden buzz filled the hall as the announcement went. “All the moment we have all been waiting for, Can we welcome the next and first female partner of this great Firm, Mrs Ijeoma Martins”
The crowd started to cheer and a smile danced across my face as I watched her approach from the back. The cameras went up in her face as the press tried to get good view, I watched her walk as she did when she walked down the aisle to meet me by the altar.
She smiled radiantly as she approached the podium and I felt proud to have her as my wife. “Ijeoma!” I called as she approached where I was standing. “Ijeoma!” I said with a smile as she got closer. She paused and stared at me. It wasn’t one of those stares of passion or love or happiness. It was Cold, Surprisingly cold. The cameras came closer and I mustered courage and stepped forward with a huge smile. She simply turned and walked over to the podium without a word.
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