MAGICAL MONDAYS WITH KREATE

TUBOSUN & SUMBO: CHAPTER I

Sumbo

***

File cabinet – check, PC – check, clean and dust free – check. My work-space looked almost the way I had left it. Almost was good. Almost was the best anyone could ever hope for.

Whoever took over while I was away deserved a merit badge. I dropped my hazel handbag on the table and walked up to my favorite spot in the room – the large, transparent window overseeing the spacious parking lot that opened to the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life. It was a lot better watching the traffic than actively taking part in it, one of the reasons I was such an early bird to work.

As I pulled the blinds apart, freeing the autumnal sun to cast more of her golden gaze, my eyes caught some movement on the polished brown wooden window sill. Its black spots glittered in the golden shade Mother Nature offered. There were flowers in the mini garden on the ground floor so I wondered what a ladybird was doing all the way up on the fourth floor. Moreover, the window was shut so how did it get in?

Perhaps it had hitched a ride from an unsuspecting employee’s bag. For a moment I marveled at the puny creature’s sense of adventure. Then its minuscule wings fluttered and it was air bound in steady seconds, only to go crashing into the window, making an imperceptible sound as it hit the window sill. It did a slow, shaky semi-circle, picked itself up again and made another attempt at freedom but its fate was no different.  It tried again: same outcome. An embodiment of determined foolishness, I thought with intrigue. Stupid little thing.

‘I’ll help you out little one,’ I said. ‘It is pretty high from here but I’ll help you still’. I pushed open the window a bit, cool breeze sailing in, picked up the little one and settled it on the edge. If it did not take flight in 20 seconds, before a gust of wind decided its fate, I would take it back in and let it adapt to the clicking sounds of my keyboard, the warm freshness of my radiator, and the intermittent hellos by subordinates, colleagues and superiors.  An extra 10 seconds, and the little beauty didn’t make up its mind.

‘I guess you’ll be my work buddy for the rest of the day.’ I picked it up and shut the window behind it.  Its tiny legs had barely touched the window sill when it took off, wings flapping at fascinating speed. It perched on the brown wooden floor, right in front of the exit. As if in response to the insect’s descent, the door swung wide open, revealing Akin.  Akin and I were the only black Africans on this floor and the only Nigerians in the whole building.

‘Welcome back, Sweetheart,’ Tall athletic Akin greeted with a natural baritone as he sauntered over, grinning from ear to ear, black eyes twinkling affably.  He pulled me into a teddy bear hug and my slender arms returned the gesture. We let go and I returned to my seat.  He found a vacant spot on the edge of my table and sat. ‘Everyone’s missed you – well except the account department.’ I chuckled. No one had a soft spot for me in that department.

‘Nice shirt,’ I said. His pink shirt was tucked into his navy pants. He was famous for bright colored shirts. He gave me a thumbs-up. ‘So how was the trip to Fatherland?’

 ‘Ok, I guess. It was good being around family for a bit but I’m glad it’s over. Pesky neighbors and relatives feel money grows on trees in England,’ I frowned, brushing off strands of hair extension that impeded my vision. I rubbed the top of the computer monitor on my desk.

‘It’s going to take me a while to get back in the zone.’

He smiled, ‘Liar, liar, pants on fire. We both know that the process will be swift or non-existent altogether. If you ask me, I’ll put a wager on the latter. As usual you are the first person to sign in. I checked the register.’

‘You know me so well, don’t you?’

‘I know you need a -’

The alarm on the mobile phone blared, cutting Akin short. ‘Well, that’s my cue. You must tell me all about your short vacation during break.’ He tapped my arm, and headed for the door.  I started my computer, fetched the annoying mobile phone and clicked off the alarm. As much as I was in good terms with everybody – minus some employees of the account department), Akin was the only close friend I had in the building and in England, for that matter.  We had graduated from the same university but we were never friends until we got employed by the same company. His good nature, charming, funny demeanor glued me in before I had the chance to object.

I wasn’t the only one charmed by his existence; everyone on our floor and a couple more on other floors of the building loved him. For someone so deserving, it was saddening that he was married to a terrible person. On rare occasions of vulnerability, he would tell me how much of a bitch she was, having little or no regard for his decisions as the man of the house. As far as she was concerned she made more money, and money provided the rules for which power was distributed. Akin stupidly believed that the woman he fell in love with was still there somewhere, and believed even more in the sacred nature of wedding vows.  He was a fool, we agreed. She was a bitch, we agreed. But he was still in love with her.

The image of the ladybird suddenly crossed my mind. Where was it? I got off my black chair, and there it was right in front of the door. Alas, it had been trampled on by Akin. I pried its flattened corpse off the floor with a piece of paper and a pen, went back to the window sill, and pulled open the window.

‘Go with the wind, dear one,’ I said, and blew what was left to a sunny abyss. Adventure could have dire consequences, I thought. I took my seat and switched on the central processing unit of my personal computer.

The landline on the desk rang. I picked the receiver and said in my most professional voice: ‘Sumbo here.’

‘Can you be in my office now?’ And the line went dead. The voice was unmistakable and the way my name was pronounced was terrible. Only Akin got it right in the whole building.

Work adrenaline coursed through my veins. Wright seldom called unless there was a matter that had to be handled by me and no other. Akin had been right: the process was indeed swift. To be honest, I knew it would be. My hands searched my bag and produced a mirror; and I peered into it. A dark ebony lady with black artificial hair, brown eyes, a wide nose, a wide mouth, and a determined jaw studied me. I was satisfied with what the mirror revealed so it returned to its place and I exited my room.

Create and Sell’s marketing manager was behind his enormous mahogany desk speaking to the telephone’s receiver. Absent-minded, Wright gestured me to his automated coffee maker. I figured this was an indication that his conversation with the person on the other end would be a while. Might as well have some coffee. I made white coffee and ambled to the gargantuan transparent glass wall that overlooked the city. I stirred the mug of white coffee and raised a teaspoon of its contents to my lips. It was pleasantly hot so I took a sip. I observed the diminutive shapes of pedestrians and automobiles and discovered nothing unusual. I shot a glance towards Wright: the conversation was still in progress. All the other managers had TV in their offices but not Wright. He believed it was unnecessary distraction.  I took the seat in front of him. I recalled our first encounter. The short bald bespectacled man had come in during my interview session. He looked fifty something and indifferent to the whole process.  I watched from the corner of my eye as he picked up my CV and scanned its content blandly for a few minutes while the human resources manager drilled me with questions. After the interview, he requested a copy of my thesis: The Superiority Of Personal Over Faceless Marketing In Gaining And Maintaining Premier Clients. I brought in the copy the following day. I was offered employment in a fortnight.

‘Do have a lovely day, Mrs. Padraig,’ he said to the receiver and rested it on the switch hook.  His right palm rubbed his cheek as his green eyes met mine. ‘Sumbo, I would like you to introduce our M-15 package to Mrs. Padraig. Her contact details will be in your inbox by the time you return to your office. Your schedule for the rest of the day has been cleared. Get back to me on the development of your meeting. She is expecting you. Good bye.’

As I took the corridor that led to my office, nodding perfunctorily at a colleague that waved as she passed me, I realized that I knew little about Mrs. Edna Padraig. She was one of the biggest clients in our telecommunications firm and, prior to this moment, the only information at my disposal was that she was a very affluent Irish widow. For some reason details about high-end clients were air-tight like classified CIA files.

I clicked inbox and all I had was her name, current location and a photograph, but no phone number. Wright! I almost dialed him and then it struck that he never made mistakes when it came to clients. I sent a text to Akin about the latest development, used my mirror and makeup kit, and left the building.

I pushed open the door of Bettina’s. In the manicure shop, four Asian manicurists in white uniforms were making clients pretty, while others waited, hiding their faces behind magazines. The place was simpler looking than expected yet there was something dignifying about it. Paintings of Chinese symbols lined the white walls and an unfamiliar albeit melodious classical tune played from an invisible stereo that seem to emanate from a slightly ajar door boldly marked with Employees Only.

I had no trouble spotting her: a blonde who spared no expense when it came to style. She looked the same age as Wright, only classier. The string of white pearls around her neck complimented her tanned skin, fur lined camel cardigan, grey cashmere sweater and black pants. Her tiny ear-rings, probably diamond, glittered as she chatted animatedly with the manicurist working on her nails. I made a move to introduce myself but was cut short by the memory of my mum in a saloon, engrossed in idle gossip. She hated interruptions. So, I took an empty seat, picked up a magazine and began flipping through them. My eyes kept darting in Mrs. Padraig’s direction.

In what seemed like fifteen minutes, Mrs. Padraig stood up. Although I had high heels on, she was taller than me in her black flat-soled shoes. We were both slim looking and curvy, but her hips were wider than mine. I approached her with my most customer-friendly smile. Her eyes caught mine as I drew closer and I hoped the smile would be well received. Some clients in the past had been indifferent to it. One had actually asked: ‘why are you smiling?’ Some people were rude in my line of business. Thankfully she wasn’t one of those. She smiled back pleasantly.

‘You must be Sumbo,’ she said before I could introduce myself, her blue eyes twinkling like the diamonds that adorned her ears. Like many others she couldn’t pronounce my name correctly.  There was no mistaking the rich Irish accent.  With just a foot or so between us, I noticed a square jaw that wasn’t evident from her photo.

‘Indeed, I am,’ I extended a hand, smile still intact. She shook it, nodding. ‘Confident. And you didn’t disrupt my conversation like others. Good call. Please, join me for lunch.’ She turned to her manicurist. ‘Thank you, Mimi. Give my regards to Lee.’ And with that we left the place. Waiting outside was a tall lanky, casually dressed chauffeur manning an expensive SUV. His movements were fluid and swift as he pulled open the rear door.

‘Your nails look lovely,’ he said in a charming French accent with an infectious smile. Her eyes told me she was accustomed to his charms but she gave him a smile nonetheless.

‘Thank you, Adrien.’ His attention drifted to the manicure shop for an instant.

‘I wonder when you would man up and speak to Mimi,’ Mrs. Padraig gave him an interrogative look. ‘She’s also human, yes?’ He threw the store another glance, ‘Not today. You are hungry and we have a guest’. Mrs. Padraig didn’t push any further. ‘Adrien, this is Sumbo,’ she introduced and stepped into the vehicle. Adrien doffed his blue baseball cap, his gaze unwavering. ‘Pleased to meet you.’

He didn’t look like the shy type so why wouldn’t he approach the Mimi girl? None of my business, I told myself. I stepped into the car and Adrien shut the door behind me.  Mrs. Padraig was on the phone all through the drive to our destination. She appeared to be enjoying her conversation. I watched the world outside as the sleek SUV drove off.

We pulled up in front of Golden Dragon a familiar Thai restaurant. As we alighted from the car and Adrien zoomed off, presumably to find a parking space, I couldn’t help but marvel at the painting of a golden dragon on the metal name banner. It was almost as if the creature could come to life at any moment. Mrs. Padraig must have noticed it as well because she said ‘Lovely piece, right?’ as we entered the restaurant.  The interior had a dark yellow background from energy saving bulbs. Smiley Asian waitresses were up and about, taking and delivering orders. Transparent vases of exotic flowers adorned every round table. The aroma of a variety of mouth-watering delicacies permeated the atmosphere. There were only a few customers around. An enthusiastic looking waitress with two menu cards spotted us and ushered us to a reserved space, handing out the menus as we settled into ancient-looking brown wooden chairs.

‘I’ll have the Char-grilled rib-eye beef with tamarind sauce and a glass of water, my lovely,’ Mrs. Padraig said. I decided to try something new, make a memory of great taste or disaster, either way it would be enlightening. My finger stopped on an item on the menu. ‘The Southern fish curry and a glass of water, please.’ The waitress took our orders and was off. ‘Good choice,’ Mrs. Padraig said.

‘I hope so as I haven’t tried it before.’

‘So Sumbo, you like dragons?’ she asked. That took me off guard but only for a second. ‘Only if they are still and not breathing fire,’ I smiled.

She laughed and it was quite infectious. I chortled back. As if by magic, I felt comfortable with her instantly. ‘Wright could learn a thing or two from you. He is so uptight. So tell me about yourself,’ she said, and threw me a feigned frank look. ‘And nothing about work, you hear?’ Another smile played on my lips. This was turning out to be a pleasant meeting. ‘I write poetry, enjoy looking at artworks, and love watching movies.’

‘Interesting,’ she said. Food was here and it smelled like we made the right choice. She continued as we spread the napkins over our thighs: ‘I go to the museum and art gallery’s every fortnight and any day I’m having a bad day.’ She cut a slice of the beef and took a bite.  I followed suit and one bite told me this was one choice that would never be regretted.

‘So, tell me about this CIA sounding product of yours,’ she asked.

Tubosun  

***

‘Hey Dude, can you speed up?’ Kumar said. His voice was jovial but authoritative. I managed a smile as he matched off to deliver his good tidings to another employee. My thesis was posing some mind-numbing challenges and my supervisor had not replied to the email I had sent requesting a meeting. Dad had called a few hours ago, informing me that he had been laid off his job. I swore again. You had better continue with your work before a write-up from Kumar gives you another reason to swear, I thought.

‘Break!’ Kumar’s voice called from the ground floor. I left the half-folded jumper, took a sofa in the lounge, and grabbed a magazine on surfing. I had barely started skimming when I felt a light tap on my head. Instinctively, I knew it was her: petite, ebony skinned, big-eyed, Beatrice. In comparison, I was a good three inches taller, slim but athletic. She was twenty-four but looked sixteen in her cropped hair, t-shirt, shorts, and small sneakers. She sat with a thud on the sofa next to mine.

‘Hey, how are you?’ I smiled.

‘Exhausted,’ she replied and looked around the lounge. ‘The lounge bit is almost done.’

‘Tell that to Kumar.’

‘Hey dude, can you speed up?’ she mimicked Kumar’s accent so well I guffawed. The new over-nighter who had just joined us laughed in unison.

‘The guy really should cut us some slack. We are not robots, for Christ sake. One of these days, I just might give him a piece of mind,’ I said.

‘Make sure you have another job ready,’ Beatrice said. I turned my attention to the new employee. ‘We haven’t been introduced yet. She’s Beatrice and I am Tubosun. Everybody calls me Tubor.’

‘I don’t have nickname,’ Beatrice chipped in. The thickset guy with jet black hair smiled, ‘Raul.’ His voice was deep but friendly.

‘Hmm, a Spaniard. You must get all the ladies,’ Beatrice said, winking at Raul. Before he could reply Kumar’s voice rang. ‘Break over, guys’. Raul muttered something in Spanish indignantly as he rose to his feet. ‘It’s not even fifteen minutes.’ He said before returning to his location.

‘Welcome to Beramber,’ Beatrice said after him. ‘You can tell me all about that look when the shift ends,’ Beatrice said and went after Raul.  I smiled. She was always so intuitive.  Suddenly I felt a surge of pain run through the left side of my chest.  The shift was completed thirty minutes before schedule. Beatrice spared neither time nor small talk the moment we stepped outside our employer’s door into the deserted city center of Cambridge.

‘So why the sullen face?’ she asked, pulling the hood of her black jacket over her hair. It had started raining, typical of the English weather. The mood swings that defined the weather in Cambridge were frustrating. There had been no indication of rain whatsoever four and a half hours ago when we began our shift.  I spoke without reservation about the issues responsible for my anxiety. She had been a confidant for as long as I could remember and handled the responsibility pretty well.

‘As much as I know that it’s in your nature to go overboard with worry like a native doctor pouring libation on a sacrifice, I’ll say this, like I’ve done countless times: Snap out of it. Worrying will most definitely not change your circumstances. So let’s see how best we can manage your challenges – well the one we can influence. Uhmm,’ her right index finger rubbed her temple, ‘okay, why don’t you ambush your pathway leader and see how he could be of assistance. You told me he has always been fond of you.’

My burden became light at Beatrice’s suggestion. ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’

‘Because I am smarter than you and worry tends to paralyze logical reasoning.’ Her left hand circled around my waist and my right hand went around her neck. ‘I am sorry about your dad, though. The hard truth about life is that its roads are bumpy for everyone.

But the upside is that although there are low spots, there are also elevated platforms. That he’s on a low spot at the moment presupposes that an elevated hill is around the corner. And from what you’ve told me about him, he’s going to get there very soon. So my dear Tubor,’ she said positively, nudging my hip with hers, ‘Everything will be just fine.’ I stopped and she did likewise. I looked at her face for a second and embraced her. ‘I’m so lucky to have found you’.

‘Gosh, don’t go all emotional on me,’ she said and we laughed.

 ‘So tell me about your day?’ I asked as we started a descent down the bridge.  The only thing irregular about her day was how she narrowly missed getting hit by a cyclist, only for him to knock down a corporately dressed woman a few feet in front of her. It was a minor hit and the woman was okay. We laughed in careless abandon. It was unfair to the victim, I knew, but the scenario was too funny to be somber. As we trudged on in a silent bliss of comfort, the trees’ leaves rustling in a steady breeze, I could not help but imagine how happy she would make some lucky man. She was good looking but not in a standout-of-a-crowd kind of way. Her beauty lied in her nature and her heart.  Our first encounter had been on the second lecture day during my second semester. She was sitting alone on a communal bench outside the lecture building. I found this quite strange as the weather was freezing. So I walked up to her and managed to convince her to come inside with me but not after she made me sit with her for another ten minutes. Before the lecture commenced we were already comfortable with each other, enough to exchange phone digits. We stuck like opposite sides of two magnets from then on. She was there for me through sunny days and rainy nights. She had the right words for every circumstance and never passed on an opportunity to motivate me when it was all doom and gloom. A number of the acquaintances we had picked along the semester told us that we looked like a good couple. One had said: ‘you guys look like butter on toast’, whatever that meant. One fateful night after the semester was over, one of those rare nights when Beatrice wore her vulnerability cloak, one that had been given to her by some guy who had broken up with her; she had rung me saying she didn’t want to spend the night alone. I was tired of telling her that her choices in men were distasteful and that she deserved better. As much as we had been friends for a while, she had never spent the night with me. I had been afraid of what could happen. For every lady that shared my bed, the only outcome was sex and I wasn’t ready to jeopardize our friendship by adding her to that list. She knew this and had respected boundaries until that night.  The moment my consolation speech was over, she was sobbing and breathing softly into my chest. The rhythm of my heartbeat increased and a familiar sensation had begun to build between my thighs. I remember thinking of a bad assignment I had submitted but the thought was swiftly defeated. I thought of the roller-coaster ride we had a few weeks back but the imagination became hazy in a flash. She looked into my eyes and they were really beautiful or I was too horny to see otherwise. She had brought her lips to mine and they felt good.  Ever since, we had become friends with occasional benefits. It’s been two months since we tasted the apple from the forbidden tree and so far all appeared well. On a few instances, I could almost swear that there had been glimpses of something more than friendship in her eyes. But I could be wrong. I hoped I was wrong.

‘So how’s your pervy Landlord? Still looking at your ass?’ I asked, returning to the present.

‘Yeah, but I’m used to it now,’ Beatrice replied, scratching her nose.

‘Who can blame the poor guy? Not with that round, calling-for some-attention behind that you’ve got’. She punched me and I grinned.

‘He asks after you from time to time, you know?’

I looked over my shoulder in an attempt to check my buttocks, ‘And I thought I had a manly bum.’

She cachinnated. ‘You silly Idiot.’

Actually, Paolo, her Landlord, was a nice guy; short, slim, bald headed, and Italian. Anytime I paid Beatrice a visit and he was around, he always offered drinks. He had said, at least twice, that Beatrice and I made a good couple. I had never caught him staring at her buttocks.

We reached her junction.  ‘So Beatrice, goodnight.’

‘Sweet dreams, Tubor,’ she replied and we shared a hug. ‘Don’t let the bed bugs bite.’

‘They won’t. I’m pretty certain I left them at yours yesterday,’ I replied.

We laughed hysterically for a moment until some dog barked from somewhere, prompting us to part ways.

KREATE
Kreate is a budding Nigerian writer with a flair for fiction. Writing for him began sometime in secondary school where he dabbled in poetry and plays. He has authored two self-published short novels. He is a banker and lives in Surulere. Read more interesting pieces at KREATEATALE