Isioma Chikwendu trailed behind the attractive woman in blue jeans, white Puma sneakers designed with black stripes in the middle, and a white tee shirt tucked neatly into her pants, with her short red hair nestled behind her ears. Not that she did not want to match her five foot-six to Samantha Roger's five as they strolled to the end of the corridor, but the space was too narrow for two people to fit in at once. Earlier, she introduced herself as the apartment caretaker by day and a mother in the evening when they met in front of the building at 10th Avenue, very close to downtown. Isioma raised an emphatic eyebrow and smiled at the other woman's friendly gestures and keenness. You don’t usually meet a lot of women who identify themselves that way these days, at least not anymore, as it used to be a form of achievement back then.
They made it through the wide glass door, the hallway that smelt like someone put out a fire somewhere, and into the elevator that reeked like a heap of days-old laundry before they busted out into a slim hallway.
"Everyone already left for work, so that is why it is pretty quiet at this time."
Samantha chipped in with a solemn smile hanging off her pink, puffy cheeks. Isioma did not miss how she talked about her tenants with an air of familiarity, like a family member who must have been in their lives for years. She matched Samantha's strong voice to the power she exuded while they strolled through the corridor. She tried as much as possible to assure her new tenant that she was only a dial away if anyone bothered her. Simply saying she had nothing to worry about. Isioma imagined Wonder Woman coming to her rescue in the middle of the night and gave a silent, deep throat chuckle while nodding to show her understanding as her eyes roamed through each wall or door they passed.
Samantha's family owned the row of apartments that counted up to ten blocks, each housing about two or more hundred rooms. Samantha needs to not work for anyone but preserve what is already hers. The building seemed well maintained with the red carpets that lined its path from the hallway to the white walls and the electronic keys, but that smell stung her eyeballs; it nearly drew tears from her eyes; it was something she could not explain.
"I think the cleaners put in too much disinfectant today. My eyes are about to pop out of their sockets, and my nostrils hurt slightly."
Samantha confessed as she brushed her palms against her eyes and sniffed into a white handkerchief with red initials. It reminded Isioma of watching a scene in a 007 movie. Then, finally, they got to the end of the hall, and she stopped in front of a white door with room 114 engraved on it. Samantha swiped the card against the lock and let them into the tiny space.
"Welcome to your new home, I-s-e-m-e. I hope I pronounced your name properly this time."
She said, smiling while trying to read the new tenant's facial expression as Isioma took in the first few short views of the room. Right from the airport, everyone has been apologetic about pronouncing her name, including the Uber driver. Probably it was because of her father’s stern face she carried right around subconsciously.
The walls of the studio apartment wore a sentimental white coating. On the right, when they stepped in, was the kitchen and dining area, lined by a row of whitewashed cabinets, a refrigerator, cooking gas, and a dishwasher. All fit into a space that was from here to here. Across in the centre was the living room with a red three-seater that faced a 14-inch flat screen that idly hung on the wall, and then at the far end was a semi-queen-size bed with a walk-in closet adjacent to it. The rug was green, and the walls had sizeable paintings. The interior decorator was well informed, and the tiny space was as she viewed it online before she contacted the number provided. Isioma smiled a bit when she noticed the window some meters away from the bedpost. She just walked right to the window hidden behind a green cashmere curtain. With one flip of both hands, she separated the curtain and let in a flood of light. Then, looking beyond, she set her eyes on the magnificent view of downtown like never before: the buses, people walking about their business, and motorists trying as much as possible to avoid knocking over a pedestrian. Her eyes crisscrossed through the busy streets and stopped right at SSD LLP, a brown brick Persian-looking structure that was too conspicuous for anyone not to notice amidst the hustle and bustle. She turned to Samantha, who had been waiting so patiently, smiled, and said:
"I love the view of downtown from my room. When do I move in, please?"
It was as though Samantha had been holding her breath, and she had just uttered what she had been waiting for as she clapped two chubby hands together as a sign of relief and said:
"Wow! That does it! At some point, I was afraid that what we had did not meet your expectations. You can move in immediately, girl! Here is the key."
She walked over to join Isioma by the window. Looking into her eyes, she asked:
"Are you alone? Do you know anyone in Regina: family or friend?"
Isioma had to restrain herself from rolling her eyes but looked at the pass in her hand and into the busy streets before she responded:
"Yes. No one. I am here all by myself."
Her face contoured into a shade of deep thought.
"Oh dear, I didn't mean to pry or get you all worked up. Rob, the kids, and I can be your new family if you don’t mind. How about I come to pick you up on Sunday for dinner?"
Isioma smiled. She had a lot on her mind and needed a little space to plan her next move.
"Thank you so much, Samantha, but maybe some other time. Although I do appreciate the kind gesture."
Samantha just smiled, put her hands gently on Isioma's shoulders as though they had been friends for years, looked into her eyes, and said:
"No worries, honey. I completely understand. I am a mother, and it is not easy to come into a city and start all over. But know that I am always here for anything you need, OK? By the way, you can call me Sam. More preferable."
Isioma smiled and nodded. She guessed that that could be the name she went by around here.
"You are too kind, Sam."
"Just for you to know, we are all immigrants here, and nothing makes any difference. My husband and I got tired of the corporate world and New York and decided to move here. My folks were already too old to manage the business and needed my help badly. So we bought our farm; while he was busy on the farm, I came right to take care of the property. So this is home for us like the rest."
Looking closely at her, not minding her stockiness, she seemed to be in her forties, but her vibes seemed like those of someone in her mid-thirties. Sam smelt of apricot and jasmine. Isioma smiled again even as the two women hugged, and Samantha said:
"Well, I will be leaving you now. I know you have a whole lot ahead of you today, honey. So take care, darling!"
Isioma watched while Sam strutted out of her space, leaving her sweet smell, words of comfort, and willpower to serenade the tiny room. Then, after some split seconds, a heavy silence crept into the space that made Isioma realize she was all alone again; She turned her attention back to the busy street and right on the large brown building with a large signpost that read SSD LLP.
Before leaving, Isioma was too sure she looked impeccable in front of the mirror and dashed out through the front door. The glow of her skin, which looked more like ripe wild orange under the summer sun, was refreshing. It made her remember Aunty Maggie, who always called her Tomato Jos, even though it was so evident that she was not anything close to being red in complexion. It made her chuckle as she walked through the sidewalk towards the downtown law firm.
One could barely imagine that the room they sat in overlooked Regina's busiest streets. You could hear a pin drop if not for the tap of Anderson Henshaw's fingers on the keyboard before him. It was as though each office had a noise-proof glass that shut out the busy feel of the outside. She noticed it was so quiet when she stepped in and walked down to the door with his nameplate on it. The company's head of Human Resources had asked for a moment to pull her file, and as he busied on the flat screen before him, she took her time to take in the view of the room. He backed the window with the blinds shut—a man who seemed to be in his mid-fifties, baldheaded, and generous with his clean-shaved bears in a black hand-tailored suit. Her entire space could fit into his office. There was a reception area at the door with comfortable-looking loveseats and a centrepiece. His inner space, separated from visitors by a medium-sized glass ornamental table, looked more like a shrine than an office, with the yellow chandelier hanging right in the middle. A bookshelf sat on the opposite side of the resting area, and lines of ancient paintings and art adorned the other end of his grey wall with unending rows of certificates and awards. The office seemed more like a home to him. He sat relaxed while he ran the tips of his fingers right around the keypad and stole glances at her as though he was trying to make up his mind about something. Probably, she tried to match her resume to the woman in a black V-neck gown, tweed coat, and her braids neatly packed in a bulb on her head. The white pearls on her ears and around her neck glistened under the effect of the chandeliers; the set was a parting gift from her colleague and best friend, Kenechukwu.
Anderson cleared his throat to draw her wandering eyes back to him before he said, with one eyebrow climbing up on his forehead:
"You seem to have quite a number on being a legal secretary. Quite impressive, I must say."
She looked at him with a loud, arrogant gaze, trying to deduce if he said it out of disbelief or if it was a commendation. While a student at the Enugu Campus, she spent all her holidays at her uncle's chambers, Agwu, at Mkponkiti junction. So at that point, he employed her as his executive assistant, and she nearly dropped her six years of study to join the law profession, but she knew that her parents would not have it.
"Yes, I do."
Isioma responded, not knowing what to add to the comment as the man tried to decide if she was telling the truth or had more ace up her sleeves.
"Do you have a valid driver's license, as this may require you to make a lot of rounds, and I doubt if the lawyer in question would be patient enough to wait?"
She looked at him in disbelief, knowing that the dates on her resume should have said a lot about her status in the city. It simply annoyed her how some recruiters could be so blind even when they had all the information they required before them. Someone whom you just informed that you were a new immigrant would still turn around to ask if you had any Canadian experience with the air of ignorance that you would feel like smacking your tongue or lips at their pretense.
"That wouldn't be necessary, as I live a few blocks away. In addition, I just moved to Regina from my home country, Nigeria. So getting a license or car is still in perspective. Uber is in service here if I cannot catch a bus."
Some seconds of silence crawled past them as though he chewed over her response and still gave her a look she could not place.
"Quite understandable. Do you know what? Since you are still settling in, let us do one thing: You can start next week, as there will not be a need for you to stick around: Benjamin is on short leave. He should be back by Monday. That should give you enough time to explore the city and get all you need to hit the ground on resumption. I hope that helps."
He wanted to sound kind, but she did not buy it. She just nodded, and then he asked:
"Any questions for me?"
She thought of a thousand questions, but two came to the top of her head:
"Are there briefs or documents I need to read to familiarise myself with the environment? Also, I expected us to discuss the salary, but you never mentioned that."
She noticed that the skin on his forehead tightened into a fistful of flesh before he said,
"Unfortunately, Mrs. Bloom didn't stay long enough to hand over some of her files. Speaking of the salary, didn't you see it before applying? We spelt it out clearly when we threw the opening to the public."
He asked, wearing a concerned look, but Isioma couldn't recall seeing any amount on the advertisement online before she sent in her application.
"No, I didn't. If I did, I wouldn't have been concerned about it."
Isioma responded, not liking how the situation was turning out.
"Hmmm, I see. So we would be starting with twelve dollars per hour, and after your three months of satisfactory probation, you may get a two-dollar raise."
He said it with an air of indecisiveness, as though he would have come lower than he offered because it seemed too generous of an offer to refuse. Isioma couldn't believe her ears. It was as though she needed someone to wake her from a bad dream, as she was motionless for some seconds. It was way lower than what others offered, but none gave her an offer. Instead, she received tons of rejection notes.
"I don't understand. Twelve dollars with all the job requirements? How do I make ends meet with such an amount as a paycheque?"
She knew she sounded unapologetically rude, but the truth had to be spelt out, especially with the man starting to sound offensive. Her slim face turned into an ocean of worry and disappointment, which she didn't pretend to hide while Anderson watched her from the other end of the table, unmoved by her reaction.
"I do apologize if there has been some form of miscommunication. I will have my secretary check out the last job posting we did, but we just increased it from ten dollars to twelve, not that the country's situation is one someone has so much to throw about these days. Also, many companies are currently laying off their members of staff, and we try as much as possible to accommodate as much as possible and retain our good hands as long as the bad season passes, hopefully."
Everything he said danced about her head in rigmarole. It felt as though she was drowning in her deep thoughts of bile. Unfortunately, other places she applied to either sent her a rejection note or demanded that she give them a callback after she got good Canadian work experience. This company gave her a chance without asking for one.
"Miss, I-S-O-M-EE, if you don't mind, I have another meeting in the next couple of minutes and will need to go for my lunch break before then. My secretary will give you a tour around the building on your way out if you decide to take the offer and sign the papers."
Anderson said this without even offering her any consolation or grounds for negotiation, knowing she was bewildered and utterly shocked. Isioma tried as much as possible to steady herself when she lifted her weight off the seat before him and gently walked to the glass door, opened it, and then, as though she remembered something, she turned back and asked the man who was already starting to get up:
"Is this what you offer all your staff members at the very start of the law firm?"
His gaze lacked expression.
"We offer what is right."
He responded through tight lips. His response even got Isioma worked up the more. It was as though he indirectly informed her that it was what her resume suggested she was worth. She didn't offer another word but just walked out right through the door and shut it silently behind her as she made her way to the secretary's office.
One thing the lady was sure of was that for her to get started in a city where she knew no one, she would need to learn how to navigate her way by making Google her friend. So after moving in from the Airbnb apartment, she took a good tour of the house and made a list of everything she would need until she got her first paycheck. Her first stop was at Superstore, then Walmart, and she made a note to close the day at Dollarama. The YouTube videos and Google reviews came in handy. The tight blue jeans, yellow turtleneck sweater, and red runners, with her hair let down on her straight back, announced her presence instead of telling it. The cart she bent over pushed right around the alleys as slowly as possible, her eyes examining the price tags on each commodity and hovering over the converter on her device. Isioma claimed each item off the shelves with the heaviest sigh ever; she had to eat, smell nice, and, above all, stay alive.
"Hello. Can I ask you a question?"
The young man who was walking by suddenly turned to her with a smile and responded:
"Sure, what can I help you with?"
He sang more than he spoke. However, Isioma felt he sounded pleasant and delighted to assist.
"I need fresh tomatoes, but unfortunately, I could not find them at the other store or here either. Do you know where I could get some?"
He smiled again.
"Oh, I see. I apologize, but we have run out of fresh tomatoes today; you could use the tin ones. They would serve your purpose."
"Sis, you could check at the African store a few blocks from here, though."
For the first time, she realized that a lady was standing not too far from where they were.
"Oh, how nice of you. You see, mam. You have gotten some help already. Would that be all that you would need?"
She just nodded and smiled back at him, even as he continued his rounds and faced the woman who offered a suggestion.
"Hello. Thanks so much. You were trying to direct me to an African store. Please, do you have an address so I can head out as soon as I check out here?"
She asked while smiling at the lady in jeans and a floral top.
"Sure. Are you driving or taking a bus?"
"It depends, but I may need to call a ride."
Isiome responded while looking into the woman's eyes, which caught her attention. There was something spectacular about it that she couldn't place; her face seemed like she needed some sleep. But then she recalled one of her aunts who worked back to back, and on Saturdays, they met up at Palms. Her aunt looked tired but had to plan for the family for the following week.
"I can drive you if you don't mind waiting. I am close to getting finished here."
The lady offered while quickly running her eyes through her long list against the full cart she pushed.
"Not at all, please. I appreciate that you have offered to assist me. By the way, I didn't introduce myself. I am Isioma Chikwendu. I just got her a few weeks ago."
The woman raised an eyebrow and smiled. Her eyes lifted her oblong face.
"Really? Well, welcome to Regina. I am Mrs. Titi Ogie. I have lived here for over a year now. I arrived with my husband and three kids. Are you with family or alone?"
"Ohh, I am all alone."
"Wow! That is so brave of you."
"I get that often."
Isioma commented while she gave the other woman a wide smile. Then, both ladies continued with their chatter and pushed their way through the store, which was already getting busy as it got closer to midday.
Coming in early had always been at the top of her list. The multicoloured jumpsuit and heels, with her neatly packed braid at the back, gave her a favourite look. Colours had always been her thing; she showed it off at the slightest opportunity. Not having the slightest idea of who would provide the pass to her office, she felt it would be safer to come in as early as possible to get the day's business running, no matter how long it took to settle in. Nobody was at the secretary's desk, even when she walked into the secretary's office. While turning, she caught sight of Anderson's door, which was slightly open. One mind wanted to chat with him; the other wanted every opportunity to avoid him, but she needed to get to the office before her direct boss got there. Breathing out a heavy sigh, she walked gently to his door but stopped halfway when it was apparent he had confrontational company. Taking a step back, it hit her like an ice pack:
"Man, I am not taking any of this shit: she is not good enough for me. I already went through her file. Why can't I be the one to find a resource for myself? Why do you keep on imposing all these incompetent people on me?"
Her guess was that it was her boss.
"That's company policy. So I do apologize, but let's give the lady three months and see."
The other man's voice sounded more irritated than Isioma had heard.
"That's all bullshit, man. You are only interested in paying less tax with your shitty decisions, and I seem to be the scapegoat. Please, I only have patience for sixty days. Kindly look for a professional to take my briefs, unless you are trying to tell me that you no longer require my services."
She tried to turn back to the door, but it was already too late. Benjamin came zooming out of the open door and almost bumped into her while on his way out. He didn't bother to greet her but walked briskly out of the room. Getting a job was demanding; now, it would be more challenging when no one wanted you. So Isioma thought while she felt extremely hurt.
It wasn't easy to read the inscriptions on the certificates or awards neatly lined up on a stand very close to the left-hand side of the room. Also, the lighting didn't make it easy for the young lady to see much more, making the letters on the certificates readable; one would have to take a step closer. She wondered if he read all the books tucked neatly into the shelf that took up all the space in the right hand of the room. The paintings of men at sea made her wonder about his personality. It had been over five minutes, and he had not uttered a word but busily scanned through the document before him on his system. He was the only employee with multiple computers on his desk with no files or books on his desk: they were either neatly tucked into the bookshelves or file cabinets.
"Why do you write like a man?"
Did she hear right? Was the question for her? She looked around the room, but they were both alone in his spacious space.
"You write so much like a man. How come?"
Looking up at her, she knew who the comment was for but didn't know if it required her to respond.
"I don't mean to be rude. We have had a rough start, but you write more like a man than who you are."
She sensed he was either intimidated or unsafe, or does he feel black women aren't intellectuals, too?
"I don't understand. Is this meant to be a question, or is there something else you would like me to work on?"
She was not ready to take any of his bullshit anymore.
"No, not at all. Just leave me with these, and if I have any comments, I will email them back to you."
She didn't utter a word but got up and headed straight for the door.
Although she was sure it wasn't long prose, the request was point-blank. What she couldn't figure out was why it was taking Anderson too long to respond, even though he had it right in front of him. Finally, after some split seconds, he put two large arms on the desk in front of him, clasped and unclasped them, looked in her direction but not directly at her, and said:
"Miss Iseomaa, I understand your concern, but unfortunately, we cannot raise your salary now. However, I do applaud the impact you have made within such a short period. Mind you, six months is a brief period, but you utilized it even beyond our expectations, but the reality still stands."
"I read on the company's website that salary increments were within six-month intervals; that was one of the reasons I joined. But, unfortunately, it is now over eight months, and I am still paid the same even after almost dedicating my life to this job. Do you want to tell me that you haven't raised the salary of other staff members? I have bills to pay, and I need to survive."
Her voice pleaded, almost close to shedding tears, but Anderson's face remained unbothered, and she saw that it was a lost cause already. Lifting her weight on her legs, she hit the exit end of the room. While she made her way to the end of the hall towards her office, she noticed a lady in a green jacket walking out and down through the other end. She couldn't remember scheduling any appointment for Benjamin at that time. While she walked into her office, heavy subs came through the gaping doors of Benjamin's space. She didn't want to go in as the months they had worked together, and both tried not to be found in the other's space: they avoided each other as much as possible, but the subs seemed to be coming from someone else who wasn't her boss.
"Daddy, I don't wanna fail again."
The little girl, who looked about eight, hugged her dad so tight while she subbed, one could see the emotion written all over his straight bearless face.
"I know, darling. We would fight this together."
"You have an appointment in the next thirty minutes. Do I call to cancel?"
Isioma said with a straight face, although she tore up right inside by the little girl's subs. Then, for the first time, both father and daughter noticed they weren't alone. Benjamin looked up at her with red eyes as it seemed he had already started crying and said:
"Yes, please. Thanks."
It was the first time he had tried to be polite in their eight months of working together. Isioma nodded her acknowledgement and left them both while shutting the door behind her to allow them some privacy.
"So we plan on having the traditional marriage this December, and later on, we plan for the wedding."
Kenechukwu chatted over the phone. It has been a long time since they caught up. As they discussed, she itched closer to the window to take in the sunny view from outside. A smile crept up to the side of her face when she saw Samantha taking some boxes out of the trunk of her SUV. Then her eyes busied themselves with the few pedestrians and cars that drove by.
The doorbell rang.
"My love, let me give you a callback. I think someone is at the door."
"OK, dearest. Love you!"
A few strides took her to the door, and on opening it, there was Samantha with boxes at her feet, and Isioma was surprised.
"Happy family Thanksgiving, darling!"
Both women smiled knowingly at each other as though they were sisters, hugged, and hulled all the boxes into her space.
"We made some good harvest this season, and we thought it wise to share some of the love."
"Oh, you are simply a darling, Sam."
Both women have grown out of being business acquaintances to sisters over the few months she moved in.
"Any plans for tonight?"
Samantha asked while helping Isioma unpack her fruits, vegetables, meat, and milk. She felt overwhelmed by the blessings and love she received from this woman and felt so lucky to have her in her life.
"Oh my, Sam. You are my magic."
Her comment made the other woman turn all pink and red simultaneously.
"Please, you are going to cut some onions now, and I don't want to break down in your space. Life is all about love. When we moved to Regina, my former colleague, Kamsi, singlehandedly got her sister to arrange everything we needed down to our plates. The love was so wonderful. We speak every day. She is the sister I never had. So, nothing would stop me from doing the same for you or anyone else."
"Speaking of tonight, yeah. My friend Titi is having a family feast, and I am driving to her place tonight."
"Wow! How lovely. You know what? I am going to bring some boxes for her too. After all, it is Thanksgiving eve, eh?"
Both women laughed while walking out and down to Samantha's car to get more boxes.
The soft Nigerian jam that played somewhere in the room reminded her of what it used to be back then at the university. She loved to dance so much that her parents thought she would never graduate; her lecturers were worried because she was one of their best. While she drowned herself in the scintillating beats, she watched as the families who came by talked about many issues bothering them back home: corruption, police brutality, fuel scarcity, inflation, and so much more. Their kids ran all over the house and laughed at the top of their voices. It all painted a beautiful family reunion picture.
"Babe, you don chop belle full?"
Her friend came from behind with a plate of peppered meat.
"Ahh, Titi, you wan ki me? I can't even move an inch.?"
Her friend smiled and said,
"Na westin' I want be that. So I go pack some for you, make you take them home."
As she talked, Isioma's phone started to ring.
"Make I take this call, I dey come."
The clock on the wall indicated it was eight at night already, although everywhere was still bright. She wondered who would be calling this late.
"Hi! It is me."
She didn't say a word as cold shudders ran down her spine.
"Please, don't hang up on me."
The voice pleaded.
"I eh… I wanted to thank you for the other time."
Dead air followed. Isioma only did what she did because a child was involved. If not, he didn't deserve the love of humanity.
"I also wanted to... apologize. I know it is not a good time, but my daughter and I are cooking together tonight for Thanksgiving and would like to invite you over as a way of making peace. I know we may never be friends, but I am sorry... I don't know. I have been the worst person and would love to make peace with you."
The silence felt like ice.
"I can come over and pick you up. If you'd rather drive, I could send you the address."
He had such audacity. The dead air lingered until the voice in the background returned and shut them off.
Soft footpads made it to the door when the bell rang. The woman with her bag over her shoulder held her hand tightly to it and didn't move. The man wore a round white neck t-shirt and jeans. She must confess that she had never seen him look that handsome before. He got a new haircut, which blended into his narrow face, but his lips, which used to look edgy, were slightly relaxed.
He wanted to say something, but she interrupted rudely.
"I only came because of your daughter."
Isioma stopped him short.
"Thanks. I appreciate it."
He stepped back, and she walked into one of the most beautiful spaces ever. The walls were white and lined with colourful paintings. Red stools were propped close to the kitchenette, and the living room had ivory sets with a red rug in the centre.
“Hallo, Miss Isiomme.”
She turned back to see the eight-year-old wearing an apron with her hair packed into a bun at the top of her head, just like hers. She had already loosened her braids and now goes about with a ponytail.
"Ohh, hey. How are you?"
She walked past her into the living room without taking note, and now she dropped her bag on the seat and came around to the kitchen to join the party.
"I am fine. Thank you so much for coming. I didn't want my dad to eat alone on Thanksgiving since mum is no longer here."
Her dad quickly placed his hands on her shoulder before she spilt more than was required.
"Ohh. You are such a smart girl."
Isioma commended her for smiling while grabbing an apron.
"We are almost done here, just getting turkey out and prepping the dining area."
She continued. She watched Isioma so closely that she was sure she could see through her.
Isioma nodded and smiled.
"I never got your name?"
Isioma asked inquisitively.
"Sarah Jr., I was named after my mum because my grandparents felt I looked so much like her."
"Nice. Quite impressive."
When the turkey was ready, Benjamin helped bring it out while Isioma and Sarah set up the dining area, and they all sat down to dine.
"I had so much at my friend's, just in case I could not eat much."
"Ohh, that's fine."
Benjamin commented while cutting up the turkey into pieces.
"I will be starting a private lesson with a tutor very soon. I need to score straight As, especially in English. I have failed three times in a row, and the school is giving me a last chance; if not, I may not graduate with my mates."
Sarah said. Although she was still a kid, Isioma felt the emotion in her voice. Now she understood why Benjamin also cried along with her. Who wouldn't feel hurt when a child is in pain?
"I... before we lost her mum to cancer, unfortunately, I couldn't pay much attention to her at that moment. It was a three-year battle. She even missed school at the time and witnessed most of what happened. I feel so bad. Also, I think the loss of her mum had a lot of impact on her. They were best of friends, and she was a teacher. I feel so ashamed. I feel as though I have failed my daughter and late wife."
The room fell dead silent; it was as though each of them retreated into their minds to grieve about the dead and the events in the now.
"I may be able to help if you let me."
Isioma didn't know when the words came out, even though it was something nobody should ever get to know, not even her employer. Instead, both father and daughter looked at her.
"Back in my home country, I have a way of teaching children about subjects they would rather not face, and they turn out to love them."
She raised her palms before them and touched each one to the length of the other.
"Where I come from, there is a saying that all fingers are not equal. Each kid is unique in their way of understanding."
That night, when Benjamin walked her to the car after they cleared the dining room together, he tucked his daughter into bed. They smiled at each other while they looked forward to her returning to work after her first leave.
"Benjamin, for the tenth time, I have told you: it cannot be done! Are you a deaf man, or is there something you are not telling me?"
Anderson gave him a suspicious look.
"Yes, there is something you need to know. My secretary has worked harder than most people I have worked with, and even some in this law firm. So why deny her her rights?"
"Did I just hear you say her rights? One minute you don't want anything to do with Miss Isiomee, and the next minute you are soliciting for her rights. Do you have your heads in the cloud or what, man?"
Benjamin felt he was already pushing it too far and had to retreat.
"Come over here, man. Let me show you something."
Anderson beckoned him and turned his system to face him. It was Isioma's face on the front pages of a newspaper with a bold headline.
"That is bullshit. It still says the case was closed, so why hold it against the poor lady? Did you ever ask her?"
"Why should I when she never disclosed? I see that your birdy didn't sing this tone to you, judging by the disappointment on your face?"
Benjamin had already lost it as he banged the door behind him.
Isioma ran to the door, lest he pull down her door. He texted earlier that he was coming over. Immediately, the door flew open. He held her by two arms, stared deep into her eyes, and, in between tight lips, asked:
"Why didn't you tell me you were involved in a scandal back in your home country?"
It came to her as a shock.
"You had no right! Get your filthy hands off me, you!"
Her bitter voice made him so scared that he released her immediately. But, instead, she drew back, hugged herself, and almost snapped her breath out of her lungs.
"You have no right to go about digging into my past. How dare you!"
"It wasn't me. It was Anderson. I confronted him about your raise today, and he showed me."
He said this while spreading his arms to show his innocence, and his concern came from a place of care instead of judgment.
Isioma turned her back to him and turned her attention to the view of downtown. Then, gazing into space, she said:
"I did what I did to save those poor little ones. I used to work as a tutor for special needs kids, and when I discovered the corruption, sexual abuse, and molestation that went on, I reported it to the authorities. Still, they conspired with those male tutors to frame me for what I knew absolutely nothing of. My only saving grace was that the donors got involved, as it got ugly. This made the justice system mandate the authorities conduct an appropriate investigation, acquitting me. Justice was served on those teachers and those members who collaborated with them. But, unfortunately, my reputation was already ruined, and I had no choice but to leave."
It felt like forever. Isioma felt his presence, and then his arms wrapped firmly around her like a blanket.
"I am deeply sorry for all you had to go through. Anderson was simply a bastard. I am going to see to this."
Benjamin said. He was feeling so bad about himself for confronting her.
"Not for me, but for the next person, I hope."
She turned to face him, and his eyes were glazed.
"I won't be coming back after my leave. Titi gave me an opportunity at her place of work. It is quite similar to my role back here. I appreciate everything you have done for me. Also, I wish Sarah all the best with her exam."
As she talked, she noticed that Benjamin looked at her as though he had gone deaf all of a sudden.
"Well, I am so happy for you."
He gathered her in his arms once again; with his thumbs, he tilted her head up and asked:
She smiled, permitting him as he lowered his head into hers and clasped his lips against hers while the sun embraced them right through the view of downtown from her room.
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If you liked this story, kindly leave a comment below
Well written. Looking forward to the next episode
I enjoyed reading this little story and I'm anticipating the arrival of the next chapter. Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece. Cheers, Jaygirl ❤️
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