21st September (2 years ago)
“You this girl, what are you sitting here doing?” Mum stood above me, arms akimbo and face etched in a frown. I dropped my unfinished sandwich on the plate, paused the movie I was watching and quickly did a switch over to my browser window. I sat up straight on the bed and gave her a disarming smile (as much as can be managed with a mouthful of sandwich).
“Welcome ma! When did you get back?”
She said nothing.
I gestured to my laptop. “I was working.”
You liar, why don’t you tell her you were binge watching Big Little Lies?
“Working? On your bed? Your mates already have big jobs or husbands and you are here on your bed by 11a.m on Monday morning telling me you’re working?” her voice rose octaves higher with each word and I winced.
“You will not make yourself useful in the house and you will not go and look for work. What’s your problem? Why are you so passive?”
I was tempted to remind her that I had just finished a huge pile of laundry and I was in fact the one doing most of the chores in the house, especially with Hadassah and Joel still at school. But there was no point – once she was angry, nothing you did or said was right.
“I’m not passive, Mum,” I told her. “I’m always online checking for jobs. No one really goes around under the sun with a file looking for some random ‘vacancy’ board anymore.”
But she didn’t get that. Mum just stared at me and gave an extended hiss that dragged itself like a lazy snake on the grass. After a long, hard stare, she walked out, banging the door behind her, my “Pretty girl rock” poster swinging as the door rattled.
I sighed and stared at the webpage opened on my PC screen without really seeing it. If I got a thousand naira for every time I’d applied for a job, I should’ve built a new house and moved out. At least my ears would get a rest from all that ‘get-a-job-get-married’ talk from mum. Then we would just have to focus on how to get me a husband while I kept applying for jobs and getting richer.
Or come to think of it, what if I could make job hunting more profitable for real? I could look for a way to get people paid for applying for jobs. The thought was just beginning to hatch in my head when my phone rang.
It was Beauty.
I sighed. “Babe, you are a life saver.”
“Bad ideas happened. You just saved me from them.”
She chuckled. “Tell me something.”
“I was just thinking about how I could get people paid for looking for jobs.”
She gave a throaty laugh. “Deb, you need a job. This is getting out of hand. You yourself know what a disaster that’d be to the economy.”
“I’m telling you. Mum is driving me crazy,” I stood up and stretched. I’d been sitting there for three hours straight.
She sighed. “It is well. Hope you’re still praying about it?”
“Yeah,” I said, non-committal.
“Deb, you know you can’t do this casually. Allow God lead you where you should go.”
“I’ve heard o!” The girl was always on my case. Which one is ‘allow God lead you’ in this matter now? I just needed a job not a husband! (well, at least for now). Was that really too much to ask? But I didn’t tell Beauty that. I was tired of pointing her back to reality. The girl was stuck in some time zone only her knew about.
There was silence.
“Look, I’m in the middle of something now. I just wanted to remind you of Wednesday,” she finally said.
“Oh. Ehn, let’s see what happens now,” I said like I always did whenever she invited me for Bible study.
Beauty and I had been friends since the day we met at the lecture theatre at the university. I’d gotten a late admission and so was far behind in my classes. The first time I stepped in the class, I burst into tears – the hall was so crowded I had to stand at the back, I could hardly hear what the small woman in front was saying and I’d left my glasses at home because it broke so I couldn’t see anything. To top it up, the girl beside me was a sister to the Ice Queen.
Her mouth was slinging from left to right, independent of her voluptuous body and I wondered how a person could chew gum with such passion so early in the morning.
“Please, may I see your note?” I asked politely.
She stared at me, still chewing her gum with abandon, her eyes weighing me up and down, and said nothing. I asked her again, just in case she hadn’t heard (highly unlikely with the way she stared at me).
“Look around you, this is a university,” she answered dryly, and turned to her phone.
Although I wasn’t sure what she meant, I knew I’d just been insulted. I walked out of the hall and sat at a corner behind the doors to cry. It was there Beauty saw me. I was mortified – I hardly cried and it was just my luck that the first time in a long time I did so was before a total stranger, for something stupid.
She smiled softly, revealing a pair of dimples. She had the widest brown eyes I’d ever seen in real life, dainty nose and a delicate beauty that was pure as much as it was alluring. Her thickly curly hair was carelessly rolled in a bun atop her head. A small, faint scar ran across her forehead. But, there was a quiet radiance that seemed to glow from a place I couldn’t see.
“Sorry about that. Sonia is not the friendliest person around. She means no harm though,” she said, handing me a tissue.
Not the friendliest person? She means no harm? The girl was out to kill me!
“Thanks,” I said, trying to blow my nose as delicately as possible.
“Here, you can use mine,” she thrusted a notebook at me and I collected it gratefully. It was covered in so many pink stickers it made me wince.
“Oh, thank you!”
I flipped through the book and raised my brows when I turned to the back.
“Oh, those are just notes I made while I was studying.”
Studying? Several weeks before tests? Where was this girl from?
She stretched a slender hand to me and smiled widely, “I’m Beauty.”
My brows shot up. “Beauty? Isn’t that a little too obvious?” I said and quickly clamped my big mouth. “Sorry, it suits you… I…I meant to say, it suits you,” I murmured, holding my breath for a blast.
But she just giggled. “Thanks.”
“My name is Deborah.”
“Oh, it suits you. Deborah is a very strong character.”
“I’m not so strong. Look at me crying at something so silly,” I huffed in self-derision.
“Well, people don’t cry because they are weak but because they’ve been strong for too long.”
Normally I would have rolled my eyes at such a cliché but something about the way she said it made me believe her. I had been strong for way too long. I’d spent several years seeking for admission and when I finally got it, my father died and I had to wait two more years before I could finally go. My life was one long tale of imposed strength.
Beauty was one of those people who made you wonder what you were doing with your life. She was ‘beauty and the brain’ as I fondly called her. We had grown to be good friends, even though I knew there were still barriers to our friendship. I envied her and suspected she saw me as some kind of spiritual degenerate. We never seemed to agree on a lot matters and she always made annoying statements like “…and God told me…” But somehow, we still got along.
When we graduated, Beauty got a job even before she finished her national youth service. As a consolation, I told myself it was because her parents were rich enough to allow her take her ICAN exams and not because she had made a first class when I’d barely made a credit.
But still, I and Beauty were very good friends.
* * * *
“Mum, is everything okay? You’re back early today,” I asked, peeping my head in mum’s room. She was lying on the bed, the covers over her head. I frowned. That was strange. Even though she worked at a somnolent federal ministry office, she never left work like her other colleagues till it was exactly 4 O’clock.
“I have stomach upset and a headache.”
“Eeya, sorry. What did you use?”
“Nothing. I just need to rest.”
I shook my head. “We’ll need to get you to the pharmacy at least. Meanwhile, what should I get you?”
“Nothing. I can’t eat now. Who knows if it wasn’t that porridge you cooked last night that is causing all this sef.”
I bit my lip. Why did everything have to be my fault?
“Let me get you a glass of milk,” I said, moving to the kitchen. I took a sandwich and a glass of milk to her. I gave her a painkiller and made sure she was asleep before going back to my room.
When I checked my phone, I found three missed calls – one from my annoying network operators and two from Beauty. I called her back and she picked on the second ring.
“Hey. I forgot to tell you when I called…” she sounded breathless.
“What?” I sat on my bed.
“A colleague told me about this tech start-up that needs a Marketing Researcher.”
“Look, I know you prefer finance jobs and established organizations but I really think you should apply. These guys are doing great stuff.”
I nodded. “Okay, I’ll try.”
“Alright. I’m not online now but I’ll send the link to you later in the evening.”
“No problem. Thanks a lot.”
Later that evening, Beauty sent me the link. I checked out their website, stalked all their social media accounts and knew I had to apply. They had an excellence, warmth and team spirit that excited me. They knew what they were doing and the economist in me already saw the viability of their business.
I compiled my cover letter and resume, saying a brief prayer before I hit the ‘send’ button. I quickly shut down my PC and picked a book before I was tempted to spend long hours scrutinizing every word and killing myself with anticipation.
They sent a mail the next morning:
“Dear Miss Jenrola,
Thank you for applying to Dezalel. We appreciate your interest in being a part of our team and vision.
Please note that due to the volume of applications we receive, it may take a while to provide feedback. If however you do not hear back from us in six weeks, please know that your application has not been successful.
Also, do not hesitate to let us know if you wish to withdraw your application.
We wish you all the best.
“That’s what they always say!” I yelled in frustration, throwing my hands up. Most of them never contacted back and when they did it was always “sorry, your application has been unsuccessful”. I’d attended only two interviews and both of them had been fruitless even after I was sure I’d nailed them. What was wrong with me? How long was I supposed to wait?
Maybe I should just pick up my paid-job-hunting idea from where I dumped it. After all, everyone was running a start-up these days.
* * * *
“I think I know what I should do,” I told my friends on our movie date the next weekend.
Beauty was looking through the movie listings while Tara stared at me as she sipped her smoothie like her life depended on it. Beauty had gisted her about my paid-job-hunting idea and she looked at me with anticipation, waiting to hear what new idea I’d come up with.
“Oh yeah?” Beauty said, looking up.
“Yeah. On my way here, I saw those guys who sell stuff in traffic and did a quick calculation of their gain and I was shocked by what I found,” I paused dramatically and breathed deeply. “Y’all I think I should start selling gala.”
Tara burst into laughter, spilling her drink. Beauty threw her head back and laughed. I stared at them.
“Like, you’re serious?” Beauty was the first to sober up, a concerned look on her face now.
“Is this one ever serious? Abeg, which movie are we watching jare?” Tara picked her brochure, still shaking with leftover mirth. She was less goody-two-shoes than Beauty.
“I’m telling you, if Mumsie keeps telling me to ‘go out and get a job’, I just might get serious.”
“Maybe you should just get married,” Tara said and I chuckled, hitting her playfully, half-afraid she would fall. Her willowy frame made me suspect she could be blown away if the wind tried hard enough. She had flawless dark skin and an obsession with fitness.
“That’s a great idea! I can just look for one rich, lonely guy and become his full time, you know,” I wiggled my brows and Tara giggled.
“Girls, girls! That’s enough,” Beauty warned.
“Yes mummy,” I and Tara chorused and we all burst into laughter.
“But really, you shouldn’t worry so much. You’ll get the job,” Beauty said.
“And how are you so sure?”
She shrugged. “God told me.”
I rolled my eyes. “Of course He did. How convenient for Him to jump my side and tell you. You’re after all His favourite.”
“Maybe He’d tell you if you were interested in Him or what He has to say.”
We finally picked a movie which turned out to be terrible. But the popcorn was good and the people beside us at the cinema hall kept telling us to be quiet while I and Tara did a running commentary on the movie.
“Ooh, this guys should just die already. Somebody please kill this guy for me,” Tara moaned and we laughed. Beauty gave a long-suffering smile, tired of cautioning us.
After the protagonist was shot seven times through the heart and still managed not to die, I threw my hands up, stood up and turned to the audience in the dark.
“My fellow movie watchers, on behalf of the producers of this movie, I sincerely apologize for wasting your time and money. I’m so soo sorry!” I yelled, waving my hands wildly as Tara giggled. I could hear several chuckles and annoyed hisses around me.
“Sit down jor. Wetin be all this na?” one brave guy yelled at me which only made me laugh harder.
Tara shook her head. “We are going to get thrown out for sure.”
Beauty pulled me down. “What are you doing?”
“Those poor people just wasted their money.”
“Seriously, Deb? It’s a good thing you don’t drink because you are naturally high.”
We eventually ended up at Tara’s place: an urban-style apartment with minimal frills and clutter. Clearly there was no way she could have afforded it on her own if her father hadn’t insisted on paying for her. He was a mogul with enough money to lavish on his only daughter but Tara hated it.
“I want to make my own money,” she would say. And even when we were in school, you would hardly know she was from a wealthy family.
We watched old movies and listened to her vent about her boss.
“That woman is a witch, I’m telling you. I come one second after eight and the whole world will crumble. The other day, you should have seen the way she yelled at me like I was a kid and it was my habit to come late,” she shook her head. “And you know the worst is how it’s so obvious I’m the only one she hates in that office. Nothing I do is ever right.”
“I’m sure she’s just trying to be disciplined. Or maybe she has issues, you know. We just need to pray for her,” Beauty murmured, patting Tara on the back.
I hissed. She always had a way of doing this; never speaking her mind about a matter. Why make excuses for a person that was clearly out to get you? And pray? Like, seriously?
“Disciplined ko. Beauty, what is wrong is wrong. That woman is evil. How can you not see that? Even God knows this.”
“Yes it is wrong. But how does slandering her help us, really?”
“It’s not a slandering matter abeg,” I huffed.
“Okay, just tell me how talking about it helps us? Oya.”
“At least, you’ll speak your mind.”
I said nothing, fuming. She turned to Tara.
“Just pray for her, dear. God has a reason for everything.”
“Yeah,” Tara said softly and I knew she would probably do it.
“Why pray for someone when you don’t want to? That’s hypocrisy. Even Jesus condemned hypocrisy.”
Beauty laughed, much to my annoyance. “I don’t even know where to start addressing that argument from. It’s so terribly flawed.” She placed a hand on my shoulder, “For starters, praying for your enemy is not hypocrisy. It’s love. Jesus commanded it.”
“No, it’s not.”
Beauty sighed and said nothing, the silence hanging in the air around us like yesterday’s leftover. She just never seemed to want to touch down to reality. I wasn’t Tara and yet I understood the annoyance that came with being taken for granted. Maybe she wouldn’t be so impractical if it had happened to her.
It would be nice to know what she would do in such situations when a person went deliberately out to get you. And I wondered casually what a person could do to make her more human.
* * * *
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