I walked into the training auditorium at a Zenith Bank Branch on Adetokumbo Ademola Crescent on Victoria Island, Lagos. Clad in my older brother’s suit, which he had graciously lent me for work in the meantime, I picked my steps carefully, stopping every now and again to examine my outfit. I wanted to look my best on my first day at work. “Are you here for the new staff training?” A lady in her late twenties asked me. She wore a splendid smile on her face, a white long sleeve top, a black suit on top of the white top and a black mini skirt to match. Her hair glistened against a backdrop of the fluorescent light on the ceiling right above her. “Yes, I am,” I answered. “You are welcome to Zenith bank,” she said still smiling.
“My name is Linda Usifo. Here is your training pack. You are around in time. If you keep that up, you will go far in Zenith,” she urged me. “Thanks,” I said, taking the pack from her. I could not help but take notice of her ravishing beauty, especially when that elegant smile hugged the breadth of her face. She stood delicately atop a pair of high-heeled shoes, methodically balancing herself with admirable grace. “I am Cletus Onah,” I said, managing to quieten the swarm of butterflies that were running rampage in my stomach. “Pleased to meet you,” she said with a phonetic tone that made you wonder if she had just returned from London or the US. Of course, I knew it was learned behavior – Effizy! Anyway, I perceived the soothing waft of her perfume – it surrounded her immediate vicinity. I tried to smile, but I could not be sure whether my face formed a smile or a frown. First day jitters at a new job – first time job I should say, you know.
I had grown up in the Southeast – besides, I was shy, reserved and quiet. I say this with every sense of humility; I always knew that I was a smart dude, but at the same time, a somewhat shy guy. Yes, I have always been introverted and somewhat withdrawn. This is Lagos, I thought to myself. I hope they will post me to the Southeast after the training; I wondered…or rather prayed, as I was not particularly cut out for Lagos Ajibo levels!
The auditorium was air conditioned, but I was sweating like a Christmas goat headed for the abattoir. I found a spot and tucked myself in. The world of Banking, here I come – from Biochemistry to Banking; that is the Nigerian job market for you. I was pleased to have landed a job at a time when everyone else I graduated with was struggling. Soon, other people began to show up. The room quickly filled up with seventy trainees – all new employees of the bank. I heard phonetic-laden tones all over the auditorium. Everyone was keen to impress.
“Hi, I am Amara,” she said as she took the spot beside me. She looked self-assured, happy and fun. The tone of her voice smacked of vivacity. She was not the type to speak with learned phonetics – she was my type. “I am Cletus,” I replied, smiling broadly this time. “Where are you from?” I asked her. “She took a deep breath, and wiped the sweat that was hanging perilously on her forehead. “Everyone here seems to have just arrived from London,” she joked in a low tone. “I am from Anambra State and I studied at Nnamdi Azikiwe University.”
“I studied at Enugu State University,” I said excitedly. Nnamdi Azikiwe University was not far from my University, Enugu State University. “And, I am from Enugu State,” I added. “I am glad to find another non-ajibo like myself here,” she teased. “Excuse me, is anyone sitting here?” A girl asked the guy behind us. Her phonetics exploded like a ballistic missile, erupting violently through the auditorium. She carried herself like Queen Elizabeth, hanging her hands as though they had never touched a thing…ever!
“She sounds like she has never been to the toilet,” Amara teased, whispering into my ear. I choked as I tried to laugh quietly. I could not help but draw a lungful of the heavenly fragrance of her perfume. “But seriously, that is what she sounds like. Why is everyone here acting like they are made of gold? I guess they were all born with a silver spoon in their mouths. As for me, I was born with a dagger in my mouth, and I am proud of it – a haggard, rusty dagger for that matter. The dagger allowed me to cut through the travails of life,” Amara continued to drop rib-cracking lines.
I had my hand over my mouth while leaning over the desk as I laughed hard. “I too, was born with a big machete in my mouth and I carry it everywhere I go,” I replied after gathering myself from the raucous laughter. Soon, there was a trainer on the podium. Amara had helped settle my nerves. I was feeling better – not sweating as much anymore. “You are all privileged to have joined the Zenith family,” the lady on the podium announced. She was dressed in typical white long sleeves; black suit and black skirt that hung over her knees. She wore a plastic smile on her face as she spoke. She was no doubt, a beautiful woman. A pair of massive earrings hung at the tips of her ears like giant mangoes latching delicately onto slender stalks during mango season.
“Today, I will be talking to you about the zenith culture,” she continued. Quite frankly, she spoke eloquently afterwards. I was impressed with the depth of her knowledge and intelligence. At break time, I was looking forward to hanging out with Amara. Then, all of a sudden, some other guy took my spot. I had gone to the bathroom, and by the time I returned, he was sitting near Amara, talking with exuberance; his hands waving like an opera conductor. He was eager to show off his phonetics too, like every other trainee. I was not one to tussle over a girl, so I found another spot to have a quiet lunch. I could not stop looking at them though; hoping Amara was not impressed by him.
“Hi, I am Gwendolyn,” some girl said to me smiling…artificially. “I am Cletus, I said spinning around to face her. “So, where did you study? Obafemi Awolowo University Ife? University of Lagos? University of Ibadan? University of Benin? Or University of Jos?” The way she pronounced, Obafemi Awolowo University Ife, it took me a good one minute to process it before I could figure out what she meant. She was a newbie in the world of phonetics. I was put off right away. Why would she choose those Universities up front?
“There are many other Universities in Nigeria, besides the ones you mentioned,” I pointed out. “Those are the best…the most significant,” she said emphatically. “I take it you went to one of those Universities, right?” “Yes, I am an economics graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University Ife,” she answered with pride written boldly over her face. “Have you heard of Enugu State University before,” I said rather sarcastically. “No, but I guess it is in Enugu State.” “That is impressive; you really figured that out,” I added with a hint of sarcasm…and anger.
“It was easy. You see, I graduated at the top of my class with second class upper,” she added, singing like a bird that had overfed itself on nectar and insects. The more I discussed with her, the more I wanted to walk over to the guy who took my spot beside Amara and whack him hard over the head. “I am surprised they served us bony meat,” Gwendolyn added with the look on her face that suggested she had just eaten a frog. It is goat meat, girl!!! I wanted to yell at her. Goat meat, my favorite meat, and this is Nigeria…we don’t debone meat here – not yet! Besides, I like to munch my meat down to the bone and where possible, descend on the bone, gently and steadily until I crush it into fine particles, and then squeeze every drop of the calcium-inundated marrow out with German-like efficiency. The taste of calcium mixed with the marrow – yummy!!!
In defiance, I began to work on my bone. The bank had served us an excellent lunch of pounded yam and bitter leaf soup, laden with goat meat. What more could you ask for? “We don’t eat bony meat in my house,” she added. “We import custom-deboned meat of all sorts from London,” she added as she continued to make a fool of herself. My goodness! Could I smack this Barbie straight in the face? I wondered. “Actually, going back to the point, I left university with a first class in Biochemistry, and I understand the essence of calcium for strong bones. That is the reason I am showing no mercy to these bones,” I said rather nonchalantly (which was completely true), as I peeled off the last bit of meat off a piece of bone before going to work on the bone itself, sinking my razor-sharp teeth into it like a lion devouring prey in the African savannah.
“Stop doing that! People must think you are a dog. Who eats bone?” She asked, making her face as though she had stepped into a pile of fecal matter. “I do!” I reiterated as I sucked out a lump of marrow from the bone. I looked across the lounge and sighted Amara sinking her teeth into a piece of meat and bone. A satisfying smile graced my face…It was gratifying to know that I was not alone. I finished munching on my meat and bone, washed my hands and left the table. I was keen to avoid Gwendolyn for the rest of the training period; one month to be precise.
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