I was extremely nervous starting my industrial attachment with Shell. That first morning, as I got dressed, I was filled with all sorts of worries and trepidation. I was suddenly all too aware of the fact that my work shirt was a hand-me-down from my older sister, Voke, who had herself gotten it from Yaba market. Translation, a Ralph Lauren shirt it was not! I stood in front of my full length mirror, and eventually had to convince myself that the pale blue shirt and navy blue trousers were as good enough an ensemble for my first day of true work.
So you can imagine why I was completely taken unawares by the commotion I caused in Freeman House!
Yes, I have always been very shapely and have my mother to thank for my ample derriere, but the way the men at the Shell HQ went crazy over the sight of me, was something I had never experienced…ever. I was coming from a place where light skinned girls ruled, so I was never one of the first girls men would look at…or at least, that’s what I had convinced myself up to that point. Everyone had always called me pretty, so at least I knew I was, but all my life, my lighter skinned friends always got picked first.
The only exception being when Pere and I met, that magical New Years Eve, when, even though all the kids in our estate had thronged the main street, throwing fire crackers, I knew I was the only one he could see…
But I digress.
That first week at Shell, I couldn’t help but revel in my newfound popularity. ‘That sexy Intern’. That was what I heard I was referred to as. And it darned well made my head swell!!!
I soon befriended a few other Interns, some of them Engineers like myself, and even though some of them were also receiving a lot of attention from the guys, it was clear that I was the one leading the pack.
“It’s just the excitement of seeing a new face.” Pere had mumbled, after I’d excitedly given him the gist that first weekend. Understandably, he wasn’t excited about the fact that his girlfriend was attracting a lot of male attention…a lot of RICH male attention.
Undeterred, I’d returned for my second week, and the attention was even more than the preceding week.
And if I’m to be honest, it didn’t take me long for me to start noticing some of these guys as well…
Collins was a 28 year old Reservoir Engineer, who had finished with a First Class in Chemical Engineering from the University of Benin. He was on the fast track to Management, and he had a wild sense of humour. Many a time, sessions spent with him coaching myself and a few other Interns, would end with us holding our sides with laughter. He was also extremely handsome. And he had an eye for me.
“Isio, which kin school boyfriend are you always talking about?!” he would exclaim in frustration, as I rejected his advances. “Allow me take care of you. Let me show you what it is to have a real boyfriend!”
Tempting as that was, Pere was still the only one for me.
And then there was Papa…or at least, that was the name we called him. His real name was Israel, and even though he had come from very humble beginnings, the over 10 years he had spent with Shell had given him enough confidence and money to make up for whatever he didn’t have growing up. And with the money came extreme flamboyance and flash. His Hublot watch was rumoured to cost 7 figures, and he drove a shiny black Porsche 911 convertible. He spent money like say na im born the money! Hence his nickname Papa.
He also wasn’t a man of many words…but instead, plenty of action. His way wasn’t to bore me with toasting lyrics, like Collins and my other admirers. Nah, Papa had no time for that! Instead, he proceeded to shower me with expensive gifts. From flowers, to chocolates, to perfumes, to handbags, and even once a diamond Cartier wristwatch, it was clear that he meant business. And my friends around me were only too happy to enjoy the largese.
But apart from the fact that I actually found him borderline arrogant and a little bit razz, I couldn’t betray Pere that way.
So, to the chagrin of my new friends, I turned down not only Papa, but Collins and all the other fine toasters I had.
“These guys are just excited because we are fresh faces! Just see what happens if we’re still here when the next set of Interns or Youth Corpers arrive!” was what I used to convince not only my flabbergasted friends, but even myself. I had to find a way to convince myself that I wasn’t making a mistake by ignoring these eligible guys.
And of course, my mother didn’t make things any easier.
“Isio, make you shine your eye for that place oh!” she constantly nagged. “You’re already 21. Na now you suppose find husband. No be like your sister wey dey follow small boy like person wey no get sense!”
“But mommy, you know I’m with Pere.” I said, hiding a smile as I baited my dear mother.
Even before the epically long hiss came out of her mouth, I already knew what her reaction would be. Almost in the entire 6 years I’d been with Pere, it had been complaint after complaint from her.
“Which kin boy wey thin like broomstick you dey follow? E no dey chop for house?!” she had retorted, the first time she saw him. And that had begun the litany of insults and complaints that followed, anytime his name was mentioned. It didn’t make things better that Voke was also dating a guy close to her in age, prompting our mother to lament many times, about how her daughters were bent on marrying poor men, instead of men who would take care of them…and her by extension.
“No use that yeye Ijaw boy block road for beta person oh!” was her wanton anthem, almost anytime she heard his name mentioned. “No carry your own hand block your destiny with one poor man!”
Thankfully, my father didn’t share her disdain for Pere, the love of my life. I guess that was why we were able to freely date, the same with Voke and her own longtime boyfriend, Obiora.
Which is why I was very sure not to even breathe a word about Collins or Papa…especially not Papa…to my mother, or else, the woman might have shown up at Freeman House herself, to ensure her crazy daughter didn’t jeopardise a potential marriage with a rich suitor.
As the weeks went by, it got harder and harder to turn down all the very eligible and handsome suitors that came my way. And it wasn’t helped by my growing irritation with Pere’s unseriousness with school.
“Babe, can you imagine that useless Lecturer! Just because I missed a few classes, he’s refusing to give me a make-up test and is threatening that I won’t write his exam!” Pere lamented one day.
“So what does that mean? Another extra year?” I retorted, not being able to conceal the disgust I felt.
“I really hope not!” he said, exasperated. “Dimeji has said he knows someone who knows the guy…and it might be possible to settle the guy with some money…”
As he talked, all I could see in my mind where the Shell guys, some of them close to Pere’s 22 years of age, who already had their act together…and were not running around, thinking of how to bribe their way to pass exams.
“Is everything okay, sweetness?” Pere asked, as I got up to leave his room. “You seem distant and irritable today.”
Forcing a smile, I assured him all was well, and returned home.
The following week, I met Ejiro.
He had just returned to Nigeria after a few years in The Netherlands, on cross posting. He had just turned 30, and was also one of the young high flyers in the organisation. Good looking and with the body of an athlete, he was admired by almost all the women in the building, single and married alike. Every time my friends and I saw him in the Canteen, we would giggle and swoon as if we’d just seen a celebrity. But well, in Freeman House, he was a bona-fide celebrity!
So imagine my shock when he actually noticed me.
“Isio! My fine Urhobo sister!” he remarked one day, as we stood in front of the elevator.
I’d stared at him, shocked and wide-eyed, surprised he even knew my name. My friends with me almost went into cardiac arrest themselves. This wasn’t just any eye Shell guy. This was Ejiro…the Ejiro!
As the days progressed, it became clear that the last thing Ejiro considered me to be was a ‘sister’. He continued from where Papa had stopped with the expensive gifts and treats, and was always sure to drop by my cubicle to chat. If I thought Collins was funny, Ejiro was pretty much a comedian, as he was always sure to leave me in stitches with laughter every time he dropped by. I soon found myself looking forward to seeing him every day.
But as attracted as I was to him, and as irritated by Pere I was becoming, I still loved him dearly and was determined to be faithful to him.
Which is why I almost lost my darned mind when I got the call from my best friend in school, Tobi.
“Isio! You better find your way here…and fast! I don’t know what I’m hearing about Pere and Daisy, but I don’t like it! You better come here and mark your territory!”
I got so angry, all I wanted to do was scream!!!
Today, thanks to the ‘melanin popping’ movement, I’m very proud of my dark skin. But back then, the surest way to send me to the depths of insecurity, was to pitch me against a light skinned girl. And Daisy was mixed race…so go figure!
Even though my work day had only just started, I grabbed my handbag, offered a scant excuse to my Supervisor, and charged off to Unilag!
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