Standing in the alcove with the handset pressed to his ear Bruce heard the coins drop and waited for the dial tone, then he punched in the number from his the slip of paper he was holding and waited for his call to connect.
A smile creased his features when he heard the ring.
Any minute now…
Bruce had first met Ayowande during the interview process.
He was standing at the hotel veranda waiting to be called in for the second phase of interview when someone came and stood next to him. Bruce did not look up; he was at a public place and anybody could stand where they wanted.
‘Can you swim?’ A female voice asked.
Bruce looked up then into dark brown eyes. She stood eye to eye with him in a pair of high-heeled shoes, but Bruce was certain that if she lost the shoes, the difference in height would be negligible. That threw him.
‘Not very well,’ he smiled giving himself time to recover from the shock of seeing a girl almost as tall as him.
‘I hear that they take swimming very seriously,’ she continued.
‘Well, I read the forms too and they did ask for confident swimmers. Well,’ Bruce said. ‘I am confident in water, and I can swim a little. I should be fine.’
‘I’m Ayowande Ogunlesi.’ She stuck out a hand which Bruce took in a firm grip.
The next time Bruce saw Ayowande was after the group stages. He was standing at the veranda again, looking down at the pool bar area when he noticed her sitting at a table with three other, deep in conversation.
Bruce went down the steps to join them, and when he got to her side asked.
‘Is this chair taken?’ A move he had only recently seen in a movie.
‘No, it’s not.’ She replied, not looking up. And just like in the movie, her head snapped back eyes flashing when he tugged hard at the chair she was occupying.
The fire left her eyes when she saw who it was. Or maybe it was the goofy grin he was wearing.
‘How did your interview go?’ He asked her.
‘It went okay, I guess.’ She said. ‘I hope I get called back for the next stage.’
They both got called back and made it to the swimming stage where she had not made it through first time.
‘I thought you said you couldn’t swim.’ She accused him.
Bruce did not bother explaining to her that his lungs had been near bursting towards the end of the test, that it was the thought of failing out at that final stage that kept him for the last three or so strokes till the end of the pool where he then came up for air.
Ayowande and four others who did not pass the swimming test were asked to come back two weeks later for another test. She had passed on the second try.
Ayowande and Bruce had kept in touch since that first meeting at the hotel, so it was with great excitement that he had raced to the phone booth to call her when he heard her group was travelling over the next day.
‘Ore mi bawo ni?’ Bruce could not keep the excitement from his voice.
‘Mo wa. Kilo’n pop?’ She asked.
‘Not a lot jare. I heard you guys are coming in tomorrow.’
‘Na so I hear o. How things be for yonder?’
‘It’s okay jare. The hotel’s nice and the training so far is okay. They say we’ll start Av Med next week, but the service training this week was pretty easy to follow.’
‘Ah, okay o. Test nko?’ She asked.
‘Test ke? There’s no service test, but I hear the tests will begin next week with Av Med, followed by two weeks of SEP. Wo, when that time comes, we’ll deal with it jare.’
‘Guys, who’s going into town today?’ Stella asked.
After a week of eating sandwiches for breakfast, and an every growing array of bland meals for lunch, it felt like Christmas the first day Napoleon returned from Crawley with some Chinese.
The problem was that they could only get Chinese in the evenings as the restaurant did not open before 4pm, and they were in class for most of the day anyway.
After a lunch of baked beans with jacket potatoes, Stella needed some Chinese to make her day complete.
‘I’m going into town,’ Edwin said. ‘Anything?’
‘I don’t know if you’ll be able to help me get Chinese.’ Stella fluttered her lashes.
‘You dey forbid to go town?’ He asked.
‘What’s wrong with you sef? As if you don’t know I have a re-sit exam tomorrow morning so I have to read extra today.’
There was an awkward silence, and then Napoleon said, ‘and me too. I have a re-sit exam, but I’ll be going into town. If hunger enter belle book no go enter brain o.’
That got everyone laughing.
‘I’m happy to buy you dinner – you’ll pay sha o.’
Stella laughed again.
‘Ol boy, press the button.’ Edwin told Napoleon.
They were on a number 10 bus and, looking out the window, Edwin thought he recognised the area they were driving past.
They should have taken the 100 bus they had missed the previous one and the next was not due for another twenty minutes. Meanwhile it was cold and Edwin was not dressed for the cold, wearing just a t-shirt, jeans and a pair of slippers.
Napoleon at least had a sweater on.
Standing at the bus shelter, Edwin noticed two number 10 buses come and go within three minutes of each other, and another was due in three minutes. He had seen the number 10 buses go past the training school a number of times, and the training school was about six minutes walk from the hotel. Edwin calculated that if they took the next bus, they would be back in the hotel with four minutes to spare before the next 100 bus pulled into the Crawley station.
A gust of wind blew up just then and that decided for him.
‘Make we take the bus 10 drop for training school, then waka reach hotel. Abi wetin you think?’ He asked Napoleon.
Just then a bus pulled up in front of them. The blast of warm air that came from the bus when the doors hissed open helped Napoleon make up his mind.
They had travelled a couple of blocks before Edwin, looking at the bus stops as they were displayed on the bus monitor, realised he did not know what the bus stop at the training school was called.
Instead of sharing this with Napoleon, he decided to look for landmarks as they drove past.
Soon they came to the training school and Edwin smiled. He knew where they were.
Since the bus was travelling along the same direction, he decided the next stop would be closer to the hotel and so reduce their walk.
The smile froze on his lips when the bus swung right at the next intersection where the 100 would go left. The bus carried on amid Edwin’s now rising panic.
Working at keeping his voice level he told Napoleon to push the stop button to alert the driver of their desire to alight at the next stop.
‘You sef press the button nau.’ Napoleon returned.
‘Na you near the button pass, press am jare.’
‘Hand dey pain you? Press am.’
While they were bickering, Edwin noticed a bus stop flash past, the area looked unfamiliar to him. When he saw another bus stop sign coming up, he pushed the button. He watched the bus stop sign flash past again as the bus did not stop.
The next stop seemed to take five minutes before they reached it.
When they got off the bus, they could have been on Mars for all Edwin and Napoleon cared. Nothing in the surrounding area looked familiar to him. The glass building they stood in front of had a sign that said City Place, but it did not mean anything to either of them.
‘Why you mumu like this?’ Napoleon asked Edwin.
‘Guy na you mumu pass.’ He retorted.
After asking three people for directions and losing their way once, they arrived at the hotel twenty minutes later, all but frozen. Edwin could not feel his face, and the food had gone cold.
Some of the others had gone to bed hungry, but Stella was downstairs in the lobby waiting for them when they arrived.
She took her food, thanked them both and disappeared into her room.