10.20am Thursday morning on the immense ground floor of Holloway Grove; the shiny new office complex situated in the prosperous commercial avenue of Victoria Island Lagos. The temperature in the reception area was below freezing, courtesy the loud groan of the industrial air conditioner; perhaps it just sounded loud because it was so unusually quiet in here.
The minute one walked in from the 40 degrees sweltering heat and through the huge revolving glass doors; it felt remarkably like being sucked into a vacuum. A kind of looking glass of parallel worlds; out there to in here, heat to cold, noise to silence, asphalt streets to marble floors.
The center piece in the parlor was a ridiculous over the top stained glass sculpture of sorts, the idea and meaning unknown to everyone. Sunlight beams drawn from the buildings’ over head glass roof were hewn into its prisms and illuminated. The resulting kaleidoscope of colors were bent and dispersed throughout the lounges’ arena. Scattered diamonds and hexagons of Blue-greens, purple-reds and Orange-yellows splashed out on the marble floors like gems and precious jewels carelessly flung by angels from the heavens. A show-stopping cynosure; and a result of no good going unpunished as vendors occasionally stuck their noses to the glass, eyes wide, mouths agape to stare in wonderment at the Eden like scene.
As mid-morning drew near, hawkers would sit on the concrete steps or lean on the chrome railings of the huge front doors to chat idly to Musa the security guard; employed to prevent this very same “obstruction to business”.
Yes, in Lagos, you define your own job description.
No more is this more exemplified than in Sandra the over-dressed secretary of Prada & Co auditing firm which occupied 4 of the 15 floors in Holloway. Her days consisted of flicking through an edition of True Love magazine, re-applying her lip-gloss and replying every guest’s enquiry with “walk down, turn left and up the elevator”. Her resume would read Assistant in Customer and Client Care Relations.
10.27am Thursday morning, Holloway Grove, Sandra sat staring unashamedly at the only visitor in the room continuously twine and entwine her manicured hands. Her very simple blue shirt and black mid-length skirt looked too boring to be one of Oga’s “nieces”. It made sense though; Sandra figured as she clocked the visitors’ silky weave, leather strap wrist watch and expensive black heeled shoes,
“She’s from abroad. Probably speaks through her nose as well.” Sandra snorted.
“I’ll make her wait just a bit longer before letting her through to management”… and with that she flicked to the style section of her True Love magazine.
Twenty-one year old Jen didn’t like sitting on her own and had begun to wonder if she had gotten the wrong address for her interview; or perchance the wrong time. Her thighs had begun to ache from sitting for too long but the leather sofa made a squelching noise announcing her every posture change to the receptionist, who would then shoot her a dirty look from atop her magazine. Despite purposely positioning herself as far away from the air conditioner as she could Jen was still cold. That’s saying a lot for a girl who spent three years in Liverpool. The Judy in her shook her head in shame every time a new goose bump appeared on her fore-arm. Jen was cold, cold but nervous which meant her palms were sweaty. She was also 20 minutes early, hungry and bored. Her mother was right she should have eaten something.
“It’s going to be a good day. It has to be a good day. It shall be a good day” Jen repeatedly murmured to herself.
“Things are going to be different,” she continued, but this isn’t Liverpool. She had been so afraid appearing too Britico for fear of alienating her future Nigerian co-workers that she’d spent quite a while picking her outfit, “no court shoes, no waist-coat, no pencil skirts, no tuxedo jacket….” but sitting in this ludicrously extravagant building and looking at the tightly clad receptionist once again adjust her red lycra off shoulder dress; it seemed Jen had succeeded in alienating herself.
She’d gotten the Good Luck on your first day from the family, all in their different ways of course. Beginning with a bear hug from dad, a prayer from mom and a “why do u look like you’re going to church” from Brother Eric.
Jen stared at her watch, 10.30am, which gave her another fifteen minutes to recite
Inspirational quotes to herself “so u think, so you shall act, so u shall do, so u shall be”
Suddenly this warm fragrant breath came to her, as though carried by song; it felt like a light tickle. Smiling in spite of herself Jen slowly turned around and BOOM. It felt like a canon ball had been shot straight into her stomach, all the air rushed out of her lungs and her throat went dry. At the back of her mind Jen knew what was going on; it was happening again. But she was so sure she’d self-medicated, she couldn’t, and she just couldn’t be THAT stupid twice. As if in response, her clammy palms instantly dried up, oh boy! There’s no escaping it now. She was experiencing a bad case of Lust at First Sight.
For a minute all Jen could do was sit staring at him. HIM. The gorgeous, curly-headed, pink-lipped, broad-shouldered SOB sent by the devil to tempt her. Immediately she scouted the shoes,
“hmm, black leather, Kenneth Cole. Nice. It’s a classic.”
This will not be in vain then, and with that Jen re-adjusted her seating (squelching sound ignored) to savour this creature. She started with the organized messy hair of his. Was he half-caste? His hair seemed a lot softer and a lot wavier than the typical Nigerian. There was a lot of it as well, Jen could already see her fair hands combing through his dark curls, and blissfully she sighed.
God was showing off when he carved that face, every one of his features was Nigerian but with a European twist- kinda like Akara with Yorkshire pudding.
His eyes were almond shaped and deliciously brown, at that moment an Angel blessed her by casting a flicker of light from the sculpture his way.
The indigo beam rested on his jaw line making him look like a Greek god. Her beloved(as he was now known to Jen) didn’t even flinch or lean away from this essence, he merely stood there nonchalantly chatting away to some comparatively pale male counterpart, who Jen couldn’t even bothered to acknowledge with as much as a glance. The indigo light moved downwards and Jen obediently lowered her gaze to be guided by this angels’ gift.
His shoulders were broad and toned, arms dangled at his sides with biceps gently straining against his blue cotton Fred Perry shirt. The tiny white buttons on it seemed adequate enough to contain the mass of his chest right down to the washboard abs, his collar done right-up with a white silk tie which dropped down that beautiful chest to just above his belt buckle.
The belt like his shoes was black, leather, and a classic YSL design. Jen knew this only because her other brother Andrew had the exact model. Jen licked her lips happily, she loved a smart dresser. The light once again proceeded downwards and although Jen noticed that she was losing track of her surroundings (as noticed by her feet curled up underneath her on the sofa) she felt it would be wrong not to fully utilize heavens gift.
Downwards she and the light went, to the black trousers, slung low on his narrow hips like a cowboy with the pockets cleverly hidden from view (that must be expensive tailoring). The bulge is his trouser was…well it was miraculous…and unless her eyes deceived her it seemed to be getting bigger with each blink. Jen purred contentedly and began to blink as fast as she could.
“Miss U know we have a Sexual Harassment policy here at Holloway.” came a husky voice from right above her head.
At first Jen wondered if it was the angel retrieving his guiding light.
“Miss, I really do feel quite violated now” it said again
That’s when it hit her. Looking up sheepishly, Jen locked eyes with McBeautiful. That’s why the bulge grew with each blink, he was walking towards me!
“Oh thanks for the heads up, Jen thought, but there was no use blaming her brain as all her blood had been elsewhere and happily so for that matter. Gathering up all the air McB stole from her…Jen spoke
“I’m here for an interview”
McB smiled at her blunt dismissal of his previous statement.
“I’m Kabir,” he said holding out his hand. To his delight the fair lady took it
“Jennifer”. Oh a Hausa guy, hmmm. She was wrong then, the features weren’t European but Sub-Saharan. Exit Yorkshire pudding, enter Spice Paste.
“Where is your interview? Or did u plan to objectify men all day”
“It’s on the fifth floor and in-checking her watch- 20mins. If you don’t want to be stared at don’t leave the house. Certainly avoid office reception areas.” Jen replied staring him straight in the eye.
He was beautiful; pretending he had no effect on her would be fruitless. He probably had women using their cheeks to clean the soles of his feet when he got home from work. In fact she should thank him, if for nothing else she wasn’t cold anymore.
Kabir stared at her like it was the first time anyone had ever mentioned his looks before. He seemed embarrassed, a little flattered and a lot self-conscious.
Jennifer wasn’t buying it and was just about to say so when Kabir- still replaying the “don’t leave home” jibe -laughed a husky laugh, exposing straight white teeth. It sounded like thunder before a storm, all low, deep and gravelly.
The hairs on Jen’s skin pricked up, straight and alert. Her skin felt like it had just been jolted by spark plugs, she looked down to see if the hairs were singed. They weren’t. Almost instantaneously she felt something warm slid down her spine.
My God what is this? It was one thing to cope with rapid heartbeat or butterflies in her tummy but to get a shock like that then feel so warm was just her undoing. Her lips parted and she purred deep in her throat. She just wanted to curl up on this sofa, have him stroke her hair and snuggle. Rest her head on that expanse of a chest and have those biceps curl around her very tight. His fragrance encompassing her as the scent made her giddy with desire, those strawberry lips kissing her ear lobes, his tongue tickling her neck. Jen wanted him alright. Jennifer wanted him very very very badly….
“I like you Jennifer.” Kabir said tilting his head to one side. Wholly unaware of his physiological effect on her
“I work on the 8th floor so you can wait in my office if you want.”
Holding his hands up in mock surrender he continued
“I won’t be there, so don’t be worried. I have a meeting but feel free to use the internet and whatever until your wait is over.”
Jennifer waited for the customary wink, but saw nothing but sincere amusement in his eyes. Was he really serious? That’s all he wanted her to do in his office? Use the internet? How could someone who looked like he materialized from the pages of Sin, chapter Lust 101, behave like he wrote the damn commandments?
Once Jen accepted how stupid it was to feel offended that her beloved was being a Gentleman. She realized how nice he was being, so Jen said just that before she would look ungrateful.
“Not a problem” he said smiling
Holding her hand, Kabir helped her up from the noisy sofa and swiped his card at the elevator. As they walked past lycra receptionist Jen could have sworn she heard her mutter “niece” or something like that. It wasn’t so much what she said but the way she said it, it reverberated like a snide remark. Jen promised to ask Eddie if it was a new slang for something else, something sinister maybe- when she got home.
Next thing Jen was alone in a mirrored elevator with Kabir. He literally is one of the few men that could call themselves beautiful. His scent enveloping her and that face inches away from hers, and she forgot all about nieces, cousins, new-borns or whatever. At this moment he was staring at her intently, still with that slightly bemused expression.
“U look at me like I amuse you” Jenny said slowly
“And u look at me like I’m food” Kabir responded without missing a beat
“I like food” Jen said honestly
“And I like to be amused” replied Kabir in the same tone
“U do actually smell delicious, you know. What cologne do u use?”
“It’s a special blend of spices I get from back home”
“Ahhh so u ARE food” Jen smiled
Kabir laughed a deep one.
“We don’t see it that way in Adamawa”
PING! The elevator sounded for the 8th floor. Opening up to a huge room, with a floor covered in a lush thick carpet of gold with expertly exposed threads of deep purple. The sounds of MAC computers and printers, faxes and a coffee maker came from the long corridor to the left, saying that this room got even bigger still just around the corner.
Large sun windows on opposite sides of the room flooded the twenty
or so semi-enclosed cubicles in light. Each one was encased in glass with the almost right angle edges curved in a circular fashion. The shape was unusual but Jen just knew that with the gold purple flooring, see-through cubicles and high ceiling it felt like a magical honeycomb.
Seeing Jen’s marveled expression, Kabir leaned over and whispered
“Architects you know. Bloody difficult to work with, you’d think they were allergic to conventionality.”
Jen looked up
“Oh you’re an Architect. I mistook you for a banker.” She giggled. Just like I mistook you for an angel-she added quietly.
Kabir led Jen out; her palm still very much in his, and they were met with an accolade of muted wolf whistles.
“ah ah Mallam. Because u don find yellow baby u force am to do ancho with you” said a chubby friendly-faced man at the water cooler.”
Simultaneously Jen and Kabir looked down at their identical matching blue shirts and black bottoms. Jen was so busy raping him with her eyes that it never even occurred to her that they were dressed alike.
Looking at each other they both burst into spontaneous laughter.
“Ehh sho. We send K to meet with a colleague and he comes back with a wife complete with matching attire, synchronized laughter and all.” A pretty older in a polka dot dress and green bow shoes said. She smiled affectionately at Jen as she played with the apple in her hand.
“E be like say ground floor hot oh” said a voice Jen couldn’t see
“Shebi he went with Femi? Let’s see what that one will return with” replied another man in a white kaftan as he gave Jen an appreciative once-over, stopping to pay particular attention to the twins.
“My money is on K though” he said licking his lips.
Jen wondered about that Sexual Harassment suit Kabir mentioned earlier…
“No me I believe in Femi oh” said invisible voice guy.
“Though I admit he would need to pull it out of the hat to top Kabir”
At that moment footsteps from the stairwell sounded and everyone, Jen like-wise turned in anticipation to see Femi walk in with a newspaper full of fragrant pieces of spiced suya. Complete with onions, diced green peppers and thick slices of red tomatoes.
Everyone in the office burst in laughter, Kabir included.
Femi merely walked to cubicle with “make una dey laugh, I’m not giving anybody.”
White kaftan guy leaned in to explain the joke to Femi as Kabir made introductions of Jen to everyone in the office. He repeatedly referred to her as his Eve because their paths crossed in the Eden downstairs much to the delight of his female colleagues. Jen found that they all appeared to enjoy playing match-maker with Kabir, she had envisioned envious glances and side-way snipes but it was all a big family.
Jen was so busy enjoying the compliments and the warmth of Kabir’s hands that he had to remind her of the time.
“Oh my God” Jen exclaimed, immediately going into panic mode.
“Did you forget? Kabir looked once again amused
“No.” Jen was adamant. “I just kind of thought it was already over”
“I have to leave now,” Jen said as she made to go
“Will you come back?” Kabir sounded immensely sad. He entwined his fingers with hers and raised her free hand to his chest.
Jen looked into those almonds and decided that at this moment she must be the luckiest girl in the world.
“You have a meeting” she answered. Steadying her breathing
“Oh my God. You’re right”
“Did u forget?” Jen said coyly
“Ok, how about dinner then”, Kabir offered
“Or lunch or brunch, whatever” oh sweet guy, he looked so nervous. Jen couldn’t understand it. He is after all a masterpiece
“Yeah sure.” Jen answered as nonchalantly as she could.
“I’ll leave my number with the lady at the reception.”
“Why don’t u just give it to me now”
Jen merely smiled and walked into the elevator. Thanking the angel again for the perfect timing. As the door on her real-life angel slowly closed she gave a short wave and laughed as he pretended to pry the doors open in mock action hero style.
The last thing she saw as she pressed level 5 were those strawberry pink lips curved into a determined smile.
Lagos for Miss J just got whole lot sexier.