Author’s Note: This is based on a true life story. Whose story, you may ask? Wel,l I don’t know. It is probably the story of that Father, Brother, Friend, Husband, Uncle, Mentor, Boss who is right next to you. They may seem well put together and composed, but inside they are fragile, because there’s a war going on.
Slumping into my bed after a really long day at work, I was looking forward to just relaxing after a shower and dinner. My laptop bag acted as a pillow while I shut my eyes for a bit, just to savour the peace and quiet of my room.
My phone just then began ringing, waking me up from my near-slumber. I checked the caller ID and it was Mrs. Ate, my CEO’s personal assistant. She was calling me from the office phone. This couldn’t be good, I thought as I answered.
“Good evening, ma. You still dey office so? I think say you for don dey prepare to close by now?”
“Hmm, my dear,” Mrs. Ate replied, “I still dey o. Oga asked me to call you sef. He wants to speak with you. Hold on while I patch him through.”
A few seconds later, and then the voice of my CEO, Dr. Charles Ebi, sailed through the receiver. “Felix, good evening… How are you?”
“Good evening, sir. I’m fine, thanks. And you?”
“I’m very well, thank you. Listen, I know you’re home, and I am well aware that you must be exhausted after the events of today. But please, I would like you to come back to the office again. I would not be asking you to come back if it wasn’t important.”
“Ok sir, I’ll be on my way. But dinner is on you sha o.”
The man chuckled. “You this boy, you love food too much. No problem, I will order for dinner for you after we’re done. However, this honestly won’t take too long.”
The phone call soon ended, and thirty-five minutes later, showered and changed, I was walking into my office building. I loved my boss, if I could even call him that; he was more of a leader than a boss. Relaxed and friendly, he had a sense of humour, always gave constructive critiques to his employees, was very hands-on, and had an open door policy for those of his staff who wished to see him. He ensured that our salaries were paid on time, and had the penchant for giving some really amazing bonuses. Staff welfare was his number one priority; he adopted the Richard Branson strategy – Happy Staff, Happy Company. So coming into work at this hour at his personal request was a no brainer at all.
I went to the third floor where Dr. Ebi’s office was located. I see Mrs. Ate still at her desk, and handed her the packaged rolls of meat pie and plastic bottle of Fanta that I’d gotten for her on my way back to the office.
She beamed her gratitude at me. “Ha! Thank you jaré, God go bless you! You be better person.”
I inclined my head in acknowledgement, and walked into the inner office at her behest. Charles Ebi was studying some schematics on his table as well its documentation on his computer. He noticed me walk in and looked away from his work, standing and extending a handshake to me.
“Felix, thank you for coming,” he said. “I appreciate this.”
“No problem, sir. It’s no hassle at all,” I replied.
“Please, have a seat.”
“Thank you, sir.”
We sat down. He rearranged his desk, so he could rest his hands on it without ruffling the papers he’d been studying.
“I’ll go straight to the point,” he began. “The reason I asked you here is because I am going to need you to liaise and maybe babysit someone for me.”
“Babysit someone?” I asked, not comprehending.
“Yes. He is a Senior Vice President at Swann group. I’m sure you’re aware that we’re going into partnership with them regarding the Elon project.”
“Yes sir, I am aware of it. But why do I have to babysit this SVP?”
“He’s going to be in constant communication with our company with regards to our system capabilities, so as to identify the solutions we have, and what we need, to be able to work together on the Elon project,” Charles explained. “There will be times we would be doing dry test runs of our systems on their hardware, so he’ll be spending more time here than at Swann group over the next few months, until Elon is complete. Therefore I think it would be best to have someone he can reach easily and directly, to assist him with whatever his needs, rather than having him come to me every time.”
“Very well. When do I get to meet him?”
“He should be here any minute now. Babatunde went to pick him up from his hotel.”
“Does this mean I’ll be working after office hours with him as well?” I asked, dreading the loss of my nice showers and early dinner.
“No, you won’t,” Charles said reassuringly. “Whatever can’t be finished between 8am and 5pm should be moved to the next day, unless it’s you who deems it necessary not to do so.”
“Ok sir,” I said, satisfied. “And what’s his name?”
“Ah, I see,” I said.
My CEO gave me a mildly curious look. “Do you know him?”
“No, not in person. When the Swann group’s name started swirling around the office, I did some research on who they are and what the fuss was about. Mr. Brice’s bio was listed amongst the company’s top executives. He seems like an interesting fellow.”
“This is why I am enlisting you for this task; I feel you and Kevin will be a good team,” Charles said with a smile. “Your ability to blend in and predict other people’s needs is almost uncanny.”
“Thank you, sir,” I replied, flush with pleasure at what I perceived was my boss’ praise.
Just then, there was a knock on the door, and Mrs. Ate came in to inform us that Mr. Brice was here. Moments later, a Caucasian man walked in. Watching him approach the desk, I admitted to myself that he was better looking in person – and a bit older too – than the picture on his company’s webpage. He looked to be in his fifties, was 5ft 11, and had an almost muscular build. His salt-and-pepper hair was styled into a military crew cut, and thin framed glasses enhanced his impressive jaw line. He was clad in a polo shirt and grey jeans with flip flops. His bio had revealed that he was married for twenty years with three children; I appreciated the fact that he could keep himself looking this good in spite of his age and his longtime marital status. Most Nigerian married men developed paunches by the time they hit their mid-thirties.
He approached Charles, and the two men exchanged handshakes and greetings. The same courtesy was also extended to me. Then we took our seats. There was some exchange of pleasantries, before Charles said, by way of introduction, “Kevin, this is Felix Inyang. He’s one of our in-house developers, working on our Oaks systems. Felix, Kevin Brice, Senior Vice President Technology at Swann group.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Brice.”
“The pleasure is mine, Felix. And please, call me Kevin. Mr. Brice is my father’s name, and I am not as old as he is just yet.”
We shared a laugh at that. I liked the man at once.
“Kevin,” Charles addressed the other man, “Felix will be assisting you with anything you need. So please feel free to reach out to him anytime with questions or concerns, or” – his lips curved in a smile – “if you get lost in the building.”
Kevin laughed. “Charles, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you were a psychic and you read my mind. When I arrived here this evening, I was wondering how I’d find my way around this building of yours. It’s bloody massive.”
“Well, have no worries. Felix is here to assist you.”
“Well then, Felix,” Kevin said, turning to me, “I look forward to working with you.”
“Same here, Kevin,” I said.
“What time do you get into the office?” he asked.
“I arrive sometime between 8 and 8:15am.”
“Well then, how about you join me for breakfast tomorrow at my hotel at 7:30, and we can drive to work together afterwards. I would like to begin our first day of working together in a more relaxed atmosphere, and you can bring me up to speed on a few things.”
“Sure, that’s fine. Which hotel are you staying at?”
“The Nordic Residence.”
“I usually pass by the hotel on my way into work. So I’ll certainly be there.”
“Excellent. So I’ll see you at 7:30am then.”
We exchanged phone numbers, and he gave me his room number.
“Well then, gentlemen, I guess that’s about it,” Charles said, drawing the meeting to a close.
We shook hands, and moments later, Kevin walked out of the office.
I turned to my boss and asked, “Is there anything else you’d like me to do for you, sir?”
“No, that’s it. I know I owe you dinner.”
“Don’t worry about it, sir. I was just kidding.”
“You sure? I can ask Babatunde to get you something.”
“No, really, I’m fine, thanks. I’ll get something on my way home.”
“Well then, at least have this,” he said, dipping his hand into his pocket and bringing out a small wad of N1000 bills, which he held out to me. “Let me at least pay for your dinner.”
“That’s really not necessary, sir.”
“I insist, and I won’t take no for answer.”
Well, since he’d insisted… I took the money from him. “Thank you, sir.”
I bade him a good night, and a few minutes later, I was walking out of the building into the night.
For weeks, Kevin and I got to know each other even more personally. Kevin had served in the British Army. He and his wife rarely saw each other, and I detected a hint of dissension there. But, not one negative word ever crossed his lips about her. It seemed that he truly loved her. However, from our conversations about his family, I wondered if she loved him back just as much. He was also proud of his children, and strived to return home often so they could be a family.
My initial reaction to his looks and demeanor was of one who was captivated. And so, it was quite heart wrenching for me to think of this wonderful man as not being appreciated. Whenever we took breaks, at lunch and sometimes during late nights and early mornings when we had our dry runs of our systems, we bonded over everything from music to television shows to books to stupid interests. He quickly became less of a co-worker and more of a friend. The closeness made me yearn for him, but I didn’t dare cross any lines with him. He was straight and married. I suspected he already knew about my sexual orientation, but he never brought it up as a question or in conversation.
After four months of co-working, Kevin approached me on a Friday morning to say thank you and congratulate me on my hard work and patience with him. We had another two months to continue working together, but it wouldn’t be as intense as before.
“You and I are going out tonight, mister!” he said with gusto after he’d expressed his gratitude.
I was a bit taken aback. I’d never been around him outside of work, except of course, that morning after I first met him, when I had breakfast with him. I’d grown accustomed to his suits, perfectly pressed shirts and ties.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“I don’t care. I’ve been in this bleeding city for the last four months and I haven’t gone anywhere else beside my hotel room and the pool. We still have another couple of weeks to work, so, I figured I’d let you show me the life I’m missing.”
“There really isn’t much to see really, unless you want to try to get your buzz on with some music, alcohol and good food.”
“Well, that sounds better than being in my room watching BBC or SkyNews,” he said with a grin.
That damn grin, I thought with a sigh.
I told him that I’d meet him at 8pm at his hotel, and I would show him what the city’s night life was all about. That night, as I got dressed after a shower and shave, I suddenly realized that I was getting ready for a date. Yea, he wanted us to hang out. But in my mind, this was a date. Maybe not an actual date, but –
This is stupid, Felix. Get over yourself, get dressed and get out there already! I admonished myself.
To stay we were having a blast would be the biggest understatement of the year. I was giddy with pleasure because I was spending time with a man I admired a lot outside the office, and because he appeared to be enjoying himself with me. We hit up a couple of clubs, and he made some acquaintances, those who were amused at this oyibo man who couldn’t be bothered about how he danced or who he danced with.
Finally, sometime in the night, we took a break from all the dancing and went out to the club’s penthouse balcony to get some fresh air. We took up a secluded spot, and sat there, simply taking in the fragrant night air. It felt refreshing to be away from the sex-crazed and alcohol-fueled atmosphere inside.
We were in a swing-like chair that could seat only two people, and we began rocking gently back and forth, enjoying the companionable silence, broken only by the music coming to us with a subdued hum from inside.
I spoke first. “I guess it’s safe to safe say you enjoyed my night life.”
I could see the brightness of his grin in the dimness of the balcony.
“Well, I’ll say this,” he said. “I’m missing out on a lot, that’s for sure.”
And then, instantly I noticed a change in his demeanor. The grin vanished, and he looked away from me into the distance, but not before I caught the sudden tenseness that had descended on his features.
“What’s wrong, Kevin?”
“That’s not true, and you know it.”
“Really, it’s nothing –”
“It’s not nothing. Come on, you can talk to me –”
“Just let it be, ok?” he snapped. He turned to look at me and his eyes were suddenly blazing. “What the fuck do you want from me?”
I was taken aback. “Nothing – I mean… Why are you suddenly mad at me?”
“You don’t understand,” he said grimly. “You just have no fucking idea.”
“Ok, I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Kevin… But maybe I should take you back to your hotel–”
“Fuck you, man!”
“Kevin!” I gasped, even more horrified now. How had such a lovely night derailed to this point? When he turned away from me again, I stood from the seat and looked around to be sure we hadn’t caused a scene. Luckily there was no one out on the balcony, but us. Then I turned to him and began in a grim tone of my own, “I am taking you back to your hotel, because I didn’t sign up for this when you asked me to take you out tonight.”
I grabbed at his arm and attempted to pull him up. He wrenched his arm from me so fiercely that I staggered forward, toppling back into the seat and on top of him. Before I could recover from the cushioned fall, he pulled me a bit more into his embrace and –
Planted a kiss on my lips.
TO BE CONTINUED.
Written by JArch