The alarm went off in my head somewhere, and I knew it was already five in the morning. I cursed the electronic device under my breath and slowly crept out of my favourite red duvet. I simply love bright colours: from the yellow couch that sat in the living room to the green carpet that I walked on; the white walls always made a polite statement, down to my kitchen utensils. My house was the only comfort I got after working tirelessly and getting home too late to know what was going on in the world. I became a workaholic by watching my parents, who equally learnt this from theirs.
I went right to my sparkling bath and began the usual morning ritual that didn’t take up to twenty minutes to finish. I snatched a tight black gown from the wardrobe, black loafers from the shoe rack, and a red Zara shoulder strap. The fact still remains that I am a fashionista, and working for one of the world’s best fashion magazines gave me an advantage.
I picked up my golden-glittering which complimented my bone-straight wig. I made a timely calculation to kill it at one of the street lamp posts, with Jessica and John taking shots from the very best of angles, just in front of the hustle and bustle of Victoria Island. It would be a perfect time for the sun to dance directly on my forehead. We simply love to turn heads! A few minutes later, at six, I zoomed out of the house along with the lunch I had prepared the previous night.
Getting to work usually requires so much strategic calculation; you either hitchhike a ride with a good neighbour or take a bus at the station — not the unmarked buses, due to the fear of a never-ending journey to the great beyond. Luckily enough, I got a marked bus. The driver manoeuvred through the traffic jams on the way with luck, and I found myself at the office right on time.
Our office sits at the heart of Victoria Island, on a tall white tower overlooking the western end. It has branches across seven continents.
I found it surprising to know that the fashion industry is a dynamic place that changes with each passing second. Our magazine was always a step ahead, just like the second hand of the clock. As a fashion editor, it requires lots of hard work, but it is definitely a good place to explore and test your strengths.
Making my way into the complex, I gave my best smile to whoever cared to raise their eyes at me, including the security men, who were always too nice and willing to help out in any situation. On getting to the passageway that led to the elevator case, my eyes fell on two people who looked somewhat out of place, or perhaps seemed lost: a young man in all-black attire talking on the phone and a lady in a pair of red Valentinos and a smart-looking three-quarter sleeveless gown. There was something peculiar about the two of them: either the way they wore their confidence or their physique. They were glued to their phones as I joined them; no one cared to greet the other. My mind travelled right around my head, wondering who they were and what they had come to do at the complex. When the elevator door opened, I slowly stepped out. They, on the other hand, continued to the penthouse, which was actually the office of the CEO.
Jessica and John would drill down on the gist as usual. Settling on my chair right inside my cubicle, I looked right above me at the wall clock with a smile as I shut my lids; the sun hadn’t come up yet and I had just an hour to nap before everything got busy.
“Gather round, people!”
A voice politely announced, and I heard feet shuffle right around me. At first, I thought it was all a dream, but when Anna nudged my right shoulder, I knew that I was expected to get up on my feet and join the rest in the conference room. I picked myself up and rallied with the rest to the tail end of our wide office. Our office space was a gigantic hall that was demarcated with glass for different groups and teams. It was all glass, and the light from outside penetrated at will. We had no use for the floodlights, we mostly used blinds to keep our eyes from getting blind.
One after the other, we took our place in the room while the new visitors, whom I saw earlier, sat with some of our executives facing us. Immediately, my phone beeped —- it was Jess. I wonder what she was up to.
The first few lines of her text message read, “What’s up? Are you guys in the meeting yet?”
At that point, I knew something serious was about to take place. I quickly responded by saying “Yes!” just before one of the executive directors opened the floor.
“Hello everyone! This meeting would be very brief because we know that you must be very busy. We have two new visitors today,” He pointed at the two people who smiled and waved at us, “Tobe and Biola. They are here to run a campaign on some new collections for the upcoming financial year, which would require our support. So, we are going to set up an office for them, and they will come to each of us for the support they might need. Kindly make them feel welcome.”
After that, Kech, one of the editors, was too kind to take the team of fifty people or more around while we performed our usual "welcome ritual" of songs, clapping of hands, and cheers. My phone kept on beeping — It was Jessica! I knew she had some gist for me and I couldn’t wait to hear every little bit of it.
Right about time, I headed for my editors’ meeting, where we picked contents for the next three months' publications and prepared our interviewers and interviewees. It was done in sprints until we got the last thing out of our backlog and published. Usually, it runs in segments, and immediately after each publication, we start planning for the next one. Although I loved every little bit of it at some point, I started feeling the monotony of the whole exercise and wished somewhere in my mind that I did something different—something different like what? I always asked myself.
“Hello everyone!” I said.
I took my place at the meeting, plugged in my MacBook, and began to go through pictures, names, articles, and every item on display. Some were made available in hard copies too. Usually, we take the time to go through the piles before coming up with a title for the edition, contents ideas, who to interview, which model to pick, and all of that. Each of the editors was good at something, and every single one of them just knew when to step in. I am the one everyone looks up to for picking colours and aesthetics. Ginger is really good with locations and backgrounds. Efe would always want to feel the fabrics. Brian would have the men's collection with Tony, and it goes on and on around our number till we exhaust the four hours mapped out for planning, till we move to the collation, execution, shooting (if necessary), reviews, interviews, and printing. Although there is a separate team that handles sales and publicity, we also make it a point to supervise. At some point in the meeting, I got tired and said:
“Guys, I think I have to run at this moment because I have to meet up with friends for lunch.”
“Sure,” Kech responded with a smile. She got all our backs, anytime, any day.
I blew a kiss in their direction and jumped right out of the meeting room to meet up with the guys who had already been waiting outside. I didn’t plan to eat out because I had brought in lunch, but their message suggested that it would be better to take it to the streets instead. I couldn't resist the fact that the sun screamed out loud for my attention.
Four interconnecting major roads turned right around the roundabout. Different hotels, corporations, malls, and high rise buildings surrounded the busy district. The heat of the sun could simply fry an egg, while workers and motorists dropped a few glances at us. We stood right in the middle of it all and took our pictures, not caring about what anyone might think or say. Afterwards, we headed right to the nearest restaurant for the gist of the day that had been brewing since morning.
I ordered a milkshake; I needed to have a cold-sweet companion to wash down the gist and enough glucose in my system for the rest of the day. Jess and John had juice and ice.
“I heard that your team would be hosting our new guests in the building?” Jess broke the silence while taking a sip of her juice.
John pretended to be editing the pictures, but I knew that he practically had his ears on everything that whizzed by. John, Jess, and I had known each other right from the popular broadcasting station down Eko Atlantic Road, where most of us started our careers immediately after NYSC as graduates of Mass Communication. While I was with production, both of them handled sales, publicity, finance, and all that had to do with execution in the media. We have worked as a team and in separate teams on numerous projects, until one day during lunch when we came across an opening in a new magazine house that was about to be commissioned in the heart of Victoria Island. That was literally after more than four years with the newsroom; we had climbed all the ladders, and there was absolutely nothing new. It was something we all looked forward to and jumped at the opportunity to do. We got the offer within the twinkle of an eye. John and Jess were promoted to the penthouse while I sat on the board of fashion editors. Initially, it felt pretty challenging, but our new recruiters were ready to make it work for us.
“What are we having for lunch?”
I asked while having my nose glued to the menu in front of me. I am a born foodie. Jess snapped the menu off my grasp, and I gasped while I watched her throw it on the table, almost spilling her juice. We looked at each other's faces and began to laugh, knowing how frustrated she might have felt at getting my attention.
“Jess, I’m famished!” I cried out loud.
By then, John was already done taking so many pictures of us. Apart from his 9 to 5 job, John doubled as a professional photographer on weekends; he has collaborated with some high-profile companies in the area of product marketing. He was married with two kids, while Jess was already planning for her fourth.
“Hey! Kamsi! We are not here to joke! We need you to spill it all, or you are not eating anything here.”
Jess threatened with a smile. But I knew she meant every word; she was determined to have me starve.
“Ok, I give up. Can I at least order something quickly—we barely have 40 minutes to return to the office?” I pleaded. My stomach growled when I remembered the egg sauce and yam that I left back in the office.
The door opened, and Onyinye, one of our profilers, stepped in with the visitors behind her. John and Jess turned in the direction of my stare and looked back at me, expecting me to say something. The trio noticed our presence and waved at us with a smile, but I noticed something different: their smiles were wider than expected, and I smelt a rat at that instant.
“Kam, are you still here?”
John asked while picking up the menu before him.
“I think we should place an order quickly,” I suggested.
“So, I heard that they are here on a short visit.” John asked after the waiter went away with our orders.
“Yes, they were introduced to us this morning during our meeting. They would be running a long campaign for a line and clothing store; Lagos would be their base. Also, office space is presently being set up for them, and we have been asked to cooperate with Tobe and Biola as much as possible.”
I stopped to catch my breath.
“That sounds interesting; it's more like a project, and you know that’s your field?”
Jess said while throwing John a look as though she expected him to say something. He took another sip of his juice, rested his back on the chair, and said:
“Well, it is quite interesting because they have been around for weeks, exploring the city. I think they are setting up a special kind of project and may need help from the rest of us to make it work. The campaign seems huge, but it would bring a lot of money and publicity our way.”
He was talking from the perspective of publicity because they worked closely with the overall head.
“You seem to be in deep thought all this while — a penny for your thought, girl!” Jess teased.
Our food was placed in front of us when I was about to say something. Reaching into our bags, we retrieved our money and handed it over to the waitress, who seemed not too keen to collect it.
“No need to worry; those at the other table already took care of the bill for all their employees in the room at the moment.”
Our mouths came descending, and we looked towards their end; they waved with a broad smile. We might have to worry about something that I wasn’t so sure about. Unfortunately, John and Jess were too overwhelmed to hear me nag about my suspicions, even as we walked out of the restaurant and headed to the office complex.
“Hi! Can we talk in my office, please?”
At the elevator, we met the Chief of Operations, Dorathy, a middle-aged charming lady who walks as though the soles of her shoes were made of balloons. We stared at each other’s faces. My heart sank as we joined her in the elevator and went up to the penthouse. I simply knew that we were in for a season.
The door burst open, and I stormed out with Mark’s voice calling at me while I ran towards the elevator and kept on pressing the buttons in rage. I was boiling, actually.
“Hey, Kamsi, hold on!”
He must be out of breath because no one expected such a reaction from me in the middle of a meeting. I couldn't hide my annoyance either because it seemed like a calculated attempt to frustrate my work. Jess and John were perplexed, not only by my actions but by the announcement that was made.
“Just give it a thought,” Mark said as the elevator door opened.
I stormed in; he dared not join me in the elevator. As soon as I got to my cubicle, I packed my stuff and hit the road. Nobody stopped me because it was way after work and we had been in a meeting that was about to change my entire life.
Immediately after I was certified ready to face the labour market, the CCV broadcasting station opened its arms to me. Back then, I was merely a toddler trying to find her feet in the busy city of Eko. I actually served as a social studies teacher in one of the schools on the island, and luckily enough, I was given accommodation for the year. They didn’t just stop at that, we were paid and given some allowances. Leaving at the end of the year was quite difficult because it was simply our heaven and comfort zone.
I remember one evening after work, as I made my way to the bus stop, my eyes caught the signpost of an opening right in front of the station. I mustered up some courage and walked through those metallic doors, tired and famished—looking all stressed out from work—but I was sure my resume was somewhere in my teacher’s bag. Walking through that door made all the difference for me in the years to come. Immediately I was taken for the role, I gathered every penny I had saved up and got an accommodation at the downtown of the island— self-contained without a detachment. My neighbours were nice, but I rarely met them because they were always busy.
As I made my way into the compound, my eyes fell on some intruders; two of them were Jess and John, who had betrayed me by bringing my boss and the two new visitors right to my doorstep. I couldn’t hide the disgust on my tongue.
“We can see that you are keeping a healthy life, fam.”
Tobe tried to clear the tensed air, but I just kept a straight face. My arms went straight to my slim waist, gripping it and putting a step forward to show that they were uninvited guests — all of them, including my two friends who didn’t dare look me in the eye.
“How can I be of help to you?”
I didn’t mind the fact that I was rude; after all, they were six feet within my territory and certainly uninvited guests.
“We have not seen you at work for a while now. What could possibly be the problem?”
My boss inquired, trying as much as possible not to match my level of rudeness to his.
“I am on leave, sir!” I answered in between tight teeth.
“Leave? How come all of a sudden?”
Actually, I rarely go on leave because I love my work so much and I get paid for it.
"Please, you approved it last year.”
I made sure to keep the conversation formal, not minding that we agreed to stick to first names.
“You just ran off and didn’t care.”
Jess began to talk, but one sneering glance from me made her stop abruptly.
“We are absolutely sorry for barging in on you this way. It was very rude of us, and we are absolutely sorry. Kindly hear me out.”
Biola said it in a calm, distilled tone. He kept quiet and looked at me to know if he would be given that stage, like a person about to pitch a business or audition for a role.
“The very first moment we saw you guys at that park, we knew that you were the right people for the job. We saw something natural that we didn’t find in all the models and team members we picked. What you do takes so much energy and costs a lot, but you guys did it effortlessly — that is what we are looking for.”
I folded my arms in front of me to resist the fact that he had finally struck a code; his words were actually sipping in gradually, and I was literally crying right on the inside.
“We have been around for a while, to explore the city, pick locations, and think up some ideas. Funnily enough, each time we are on our way back, you guys are always in our faces with your camera, taking pictures right under the scorching sun. Who does that? You know, at times, we end up doing something not because we really love it but because that is just the best option we could pick at that moment. This project would only last for a while, and you all would have to go back to your normal lives as though we never existed. I don’t want to talk about the incentives involved, but…”
“I simply feel used around here. I have a job as a fashion editor. You don’t just expect me to leave meetings at any moment? What of my reputation and career? Even if it is just for a day, do you guys actually care, or the only thing you see is the money and fame?” I had to cut him short.
“Everything is set, Kam, and we will start in the next couple of days. We are sorry to have come here unannounced.” John said.
When they saw that the conversation was not heading anywhere, slowly, they all made their way out through the gate, into their respective cars, and drove off.
Lights, camera, action
My toddler crawled all over my leg and right around the tail of my long white dress. Vanity wanted to launch her first line of dinner dresses in Lagos, Nigeria, and I got a personal email to shoot for it. Well, I had to bring my son along, and he played a good role because the director saw the need for inclusion. Life is not an exclusive thing, and our kids are involved in everything; even a dinner at night shouldn’t be held without their presence.
Two years down the line, my life revolves around being a fashion manager, a wife, a mother, and a supermodel. Looking back on the day that we had that conversation right in front of my apartment, everything looks so much different now. As I look into the mirror behind the camera set, I only see a baby girl on transit.
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