She closed the door of the Uber she had taken and she smiled to herself, fixing back her veil into place. She watched as the driver drove off before she turned to face the gigantic building in front of her. She let out a giggle; which had many reasons for her. One, she felt that, leaving Adamawa was one of her greatest achievements in life, she could finally be the person she had always dreamed of being. Two, she knew there were greater opportunities in Abuja, and there was no way she was leaving this state without fulfilling all that she dreamed of. She knew Mama would surely come and find her if she heard that corpers had passing out parade, but she would have to make another excuse, she was just starting, right? This wouldn’t be a problem. She would figure out what to do then, she had always figured it out.
‘Bunza Companies Nig. Ltd.’ She knew no matter how Baba Yusuf tried in making sure she stayed in Adamawa to serve her country, all his efforts proved futile and today, she was standing in front of one of the billion-dollar companies in Nigeria. And she wouldn’t have been happier in her life. She held a stoic expression and her usual confident look before she began walking into the building. She greeted the guards and walked to the reception, she was sure Farha had told her where she should go if she arrived, but she wasn’t sure where it was, and now she knew even if she called that girl she wouldn’t pick her call because she was asleep.
Farha’s father got her appointed in his company, and it was to help her reach her goal, she would be thankful to them forever. “Hello, good morning,” she greeted one of the cleaners she saw on her way and the man looked up at her.
“Morning,” he greeted back and ducked his head back into his work. She wondered why was it that some people were always grumpy in the mornings, Farha too was like that. When they were in school, even if they had morning lectures, she knew better than to speak to Farha in the early hours of the day, she always had to wait until she was back to her usual self.
“Please, where can I locate the HR’s office, IT department?” She asked, and he was silent, heaved a sigh before he looked up at the building.
“9th floor, ask the lady in the reception, she would lead you there.” He informed, and she smiled appreciatively at him before she nodded her head, muttering a soft thank you before she walked away.
She had seen enough building for this to scare her off, but one thing was certain, it was beautiful, huge, and had beautiful architecture. Before she reached the elevator, she had noticed someone was there and it would close soon, she had had a lot of bad experiences with elevators to let herself walk into one alone. She always needed company, and she hurried toward it, placing her feet between the doors that were beginning to close. Her peplum skirt lifted, revealing her enchanting chain dangling on her leg.
She entered the elevator before she smiled and turned to look at the only person that was in it, he wasn’t looking her way. That gave her the chance to have a better look at it his face. The first word that came to her mind was, handsome. Maybe if there was a better word than handsome, which could do justice to the beauty of a man, she would have used it. His eyes began wavering to her and she quickly fixed her eyes on her feet.
Silence prevailed in the elevator before she heaved a sigh, she wasn’t the talking type, but she as well hated silence so much. Especially when she was in an elevator and she was anxious. “Can I ask you something please? I’m new here, like it’s my first day, not as an employee though. I can see you’re heading to the IT department. Will you please locate me at the HR office? I’m going to serve here as a copper, I don’t know which among them I should go to see first. I was told the manager is so grumpy, so I opted for the HR, maybe he can take my appointment later to the manager.” She always talked so much when she was anxious, and right now she knew she had fed this man up with her words.
Silence. She waited for a few more minutes but there was no answer from him, she looked up and he had his hands in his pockets, not even glancing her way. She wondered what type of man this way, how could a beautiful Adamawa lady like her-she didn’t mean to brag-be speaking to you and you had the guts to shun her? The elevator opened and they walked out, she rolled her eyes at his retreating back and walked to the woman the cleaner told her to.
“Hello, please where is the HR’s office?” She asked, leaning on the counter.
The receptionist who looked like one of those Yoruba girls that if you dared get into a fight with them she would be blown died, she looked up at her and then motioned for a corner without even speaking. She rolled her eyes at her but she followed the path she had shown. She saw the sign of the HR’s office and entered, he was a lovely looking man, probably in his early thirties. Does this company only employ handsome men?
She read the banner on his desk, ‘Sulaiman Kabir Bunza’. Something clicked on her, this company! Maybe they were related to the CEO? She quickly masked up her curious look and smiled softly at him, professionally.
“My name is Khadija, and I’m the new corper appointed here.” She handed him her documents as he answered her pleasantries.
Suddenly, he handed her back the documents and smiled, “Khadija, this is a special appointment, you have to see the manager. The office is by your right…” he told her the manager’s office and she held herself from telling him her fear of meeting this manager. She thanked him and walked out of the office, walking silently while she gave herself the pep talk.
She was a confident girl, right? She can do this. She stood in front of the manager’s office and braced herself before she walked inside, the first thing her eyes got in contact with was the name banner on his desk, which read ‘Yazeed Adam Bunza’. Wait, the CEO of this company only hired his relatives or what?
She spoke softly, “Assalamu Alaikum,” waiting to see who the manager was and what his face looked like before she ventured into her files and matched her expression with his.
He looked up from the wardrobe he was searching for some documents from and answered her, “Waalaikumus Salam,” he said as he walked back to his chair and she stood there, staring at him. There was no way he could be the guy from the elevator!
She realized he was waiting for her, and she handed him her document, irked at the way he acted as if he didn’t recognize her, or maybe he didn’t. He collected the file and went through it before he looked up at her, his mahogany eyes for the first time got in contact with hers, she held a stoic expression.
“What is your name, Miss?” He asked, and she resisted the urge to smack his head. Hadn’t he seen her name flying everywhere in her documents? And also, that’s how his voice sounded? That’s the main reason he hardly spoke because he knew he had a voice so amazing…Earth to! She scolded herself.
“My name is Jalilah.” She wasn’t lying, only being sarcastic. She knew he didn’t ask for her nickname, he wanted to know her real name even though he had seen it everywhere in her documents.
He was silent for a while before he looked up at her, yet, their eyes met again. “That’s not what’s written here, perhaps you aren’t the one?” He questioned with a straight face, Jalilah wished she could move to where he was and stretch out a smile on his grimmer lips. He looked so sad for a person that had such beauty in his possession.
“I thought you wanted to know my nickname because my name is written all over there.” She resisted the urge to roll her eyes at him, instead, she ducked her head down. He stared at her for a few seconds and shook his head as if to show her that he had no time to waste with a girl like her.
“You were born in Adamawa and you studied at American University of Nigeria, Yola?” He asked, flipping through her papers. She nodded her head, intensely staring at him to see the kind of expression he would have while reading her documents. She knew he had seen them before, if not, who would have appointed her as a copper in his department?
Suddenly, she was tired and he still hadn’t asked her to find herself a seat and sit down, but she did that anyway. While he was still doing his survey in her file, she moved toward his table and pulled out of his chairs out, but he stopped her even before she had her butts seated on it. “What do you think you’re doing?” He asked, and she looked between this name banner, his face, his eyes that were a shade of mahogany and she didn’t miss the cloud of darkness engulfing them, she shook her head softly.
“I got tired standing over there, so I was trying to sit down before you’re done.” She politely replied because she wasn’t so strong when it came to physical matters.
He motioned for her to go back to where she was standing before, without even voicing a word out, and Jalilah wished she could act as if she hadn’t seen him. Nonetheless, she did as he said and moved back to where she was standing. She felt that he was only finding an excuse to punish her, but there was no way he was still looking into her documents. Finally, he was done, and he handed her back the file.
“Go to the HR’s office and tell him to find you an office on the floor. He’ll tell you whatever you need to do, okay?” She nodded her head and wordlessly walked out of the office, she was so tired of standing that she felt she could fall.
She knocked before she turned the doorknob and entered, he was on the phone while she entered and he motioned for her to sit before he was done, Jalilah couldn’t have been more glad. She sat down and waited until he was done before she softly smiled, “He said I should ask you to give me an office and also the works I’m to be doing.”
Sulaiman smiled, collected her files and he looked at her, “My name is Sulaiman Kabir Bunza, feel free to call me Sulaiman please.”
She smiled and nodded her head, “My name is Khadija, but I prefer being called Jalilah.” She told him, he opened one of the cabinets and put her file in it before he looked up at her with a hint of a smile on his lips.
“I can tell from your expression that it wasn’t a good encounter, he’s a lovely person. Your office will be…” he was flipping through the design of the floor and checking all the offices that had been occupied and the ones that weren’t. Only one left unless he was going to match her up with a male employee, which he wouldn’t do that. The only one left was for an employee that went abroad for more studies.
“It’s in the Manager’s corridor, just two offices away.” He informed before he closed the design and look at her, she had this whiny look that if she would be given the chance to, there was nothing that could stop her from crying.
“Please, can I have a different office away from his?” She asked because she couldn’t imagine staying that close to him. She didn’t mind they had two offices apart because the offices were all made of glass, they were see-through, and she knew a lot of things might happen that way.
Sulaiman laughed and shook his head at her, “You can only have that office, it’s the only free one we have for now. You can go to the receptionist and ask her to give you the key.” She looked at him wanting to protest again but she later realized that there was nothing she could do, this wasn’t Mama sitting across from her. This was a company, a total stranger, she had to act mature.
She stood up, thanked him before she went back to the reception thinking of how she was going to manage. It was evident he didn’t hate her alone, he hated everyone. But she had told him to his face that she heard he was grumpy and she didn’t want to meet him, the HR would do that job for her. He could use that against her to make her life a living hell.
She stood on the counter and stared at the room, telling her the office she wanted the keys for. The woman handed her the key and Jalilah clutched more to her bag before she walked away. She had to make herself busy when she reached his office because eye contact with him would be the last thing she wanted. There was something about his eyes that she was yet to comprehend. She opened the office but no matter how she wanted to growl, she had to smile. The aesthetic of the office was what calmed her mind and she dropped her bag on the only sofa before she walked to the chair. She sat down and swiveled herself, a chortle escaping her lips.
“This place is so good!” She mused to herself and let herself flew. It was a beautiful morning, she must admit. Only if she was going to ignore all the things that had happened and would likely happen with the manager barely ten feet away from her, she would likely be happy in this place. She took a good look at the office and she had noticed there was enough space for her to practice ballet. If she needed more space, she would just have to push that sofa away, and the whole office would be hers. If this wasn’t a dream come true!
Her phone’s ringtone brought her out of her reverie and she quickly fetched for her bag, she took the phone out and picked the call. “Good morning, Mama,” She greeted with a wide smile on her lips.
“Good morning, Jalilah am, how are you doing?” Mama asked, and Jalilah smiled before she sat back. She had always loved it when Mama referred to her as Jalilah am, it always gave her this feeling. She knew she was her mother’s daughter, the only child she had ever had in her life. Jalilah knew she was her Mama’s happiness. Ever since her father died when she was in her final year in secondary school, she had always been her happiness. And Mama had loved anything she loved except for ballet, that was the only thing.
“I’m doing fine, Mama. I hope you’re okay too? How’s Fareed and Fareeda?” They were Mama’s niece and nephew who lived with them. They were only 17, but sometimes Jalilah felt they were older than that.
“They’ve left for school, and we’re all fine. I hope you’re fine there, Jalilah? Nothing bothers you, right?” Mama asked, and Jalilah smiled before she nodded her head as if she could see her.
“I’m fine, Mama. As fine could ever be. The house, the place of work, the city, everything is fine to me.”
“This reminds me, I’ll transfer some money to your account, you need to buy more foodstuffs and house items, right?” Mama asked, and Jalilah wished she could say no. But no matter how she tried to tell her mother she was sufficient, she wouldn’t agree. She always told her that if she didn’t spend her money who will? She better spend it happily while she was together with her.
“Yes, Mama, I would need some. Thank you.” They chatted for a while before Jalilah excused herself when she heard a faint knock on the door even though she could see the intruder through the glass. Sulaiman walked in and he smiled before he found a seat and sat down, placing down a pile of papers on her table.
“You should’ve called me to come really.” She spoke, and he shook his head.
“I realized I didn’t have your number and the work needs to be done, so I have to come by myself.” He showed her what she would do and how she was going to do everything, Jalilah thanked him and assured him that everything would be done.
He stood up before he spoke, “I forgot to tell you, we close by 5:30 pm.”
Even though that seemed a lot of time for her, she smiled. “Yeah, thank you for telling me.” When he left the office and she was sure even if she pulled out a dramatic behavior he wouldn’t see her, Jalilah put her hands up in her head and silently screamed. How would she live in this building for how many hours? It was supposed to be 9hrs 30minutes. But she knew she couldn’t leave, she had to wait.
Why? Because the current online classes she was taking for the ballet were by 5:30 pm too, and there was no way she could be home without being late for her class. But for today, she knew she had to do this work, she would organize everything by tomorrow. She sent an email to Mrs. Rosey that she wouldn’t be able to attend her class today and get to work!
She wasn’t done working but she could swear when she stood up her back made a crack, it wasn’t easy. She had never spent the kind of time she had spent seated without doing anything just tapping away in her laptop but today. Somedays she felt Software Engineering wasn’t for her, but as much as she loved ballet, she knew a part of her loved the course too, but she had never put it into practice like she did today. It was time for Asr prayer, and she usually had her lunch now especially when she had a good breakfast, and today was one of the days she had a good breakfast because she was cautious, she didn’t know how the company was, whether or not if she would find something good to eat.
She fixed back her veil carefully, took her bag, and walked out of the office after she had locked it. Her eyes were fixed on her feet, thinking of the best way to soothe her body today. She held nothing with regard as she held her body because if she was loose or ate so much, she wouldn’t be able to do her ballet. She bumped onto something, wait…maybe it was someone!
She placed her palm on her forehead, which she banged on the hard surface and looked up, her lips curling up showing her discomfort. “Oh,” she said, and quickly mask up to her emotions. “I’m sorry, I haven’t seen you coming.” She apologized, and she could see the way he was scrunching up his face as if she was some sort of dirt.
He walked away without replying to her and after a few feet apart from him, Jalilah realized she didn’t know the mosque nor did she know where she was going to find something light for her stomach. One thing she took seriously, her diet. She realized the only way to find all those things was by following him, and she set her face, walking in strides until she matched his steps. He looked at her once and continued working.
Jalilah wanted to scold herself, she wanted to tell herself that this was her manager and she had to act all respectful toward him. ‘Just once,’ she spoke to herself. Because there was no way she was letting him go now. She had to follow his every step. One, they had to take the elevator and there was no way she was taking it alone. Two, she had to know where they prayed and three, she had to know where she could eat. He tapped on the buttons and they both waited until it was opened before they entered.
When Jalilah heard the ringtone of her phone, she wanted to scream out loud. Who the hell was calling her now? This time? Like it was a normal time but not when she was stuck in an elevator with this man. She brought her phone out of her bag and slide the answer button. “Hello, Farha?” She asked as if she wasn’t sure of the name she had seen.
“Jalilah!” Farha squealed. Even though she was sure there was no way he could hear what she was saying, she was keen on her words. She prayed Farha wouldn’t bring up a conversation that would force her to say inappropriate things.
“Farha, I’ve been wanting to call you, but too much work. How are you?” She asked, and Farha giggled because this wasn’t the way she was used to hearing Jalilah over the phone.
“Girl, what’s wrong with you? Are you sick? Or is it Mrs. Rosey that died? And you couldn’t finish your online classes?” She asked, and no matter how Jalilah wanted to keep herself, she couldn’t help bursting out laughing.
“You’re sick in the head, even if she died, I’d have to finish that class and get my certificate. But, I’m just famished, I need to pray, a lot of things are on my mind right now.” She wished the way she had spoken was close to a whisper, even though whispering was one of the things she had less expertise.
“Wait, this isn’t the normal exciting first day at work Jalilah, what’s wrong? Met a guy already?” She took a glance at him and he had looked toward her, she quickly took her eyes off before she shook her head as if Farha could see her.
“No, come on. That’s not the case, you know I can’t be like that, right? Like not on the first day, didn’t we even promise not to do them that way?” She was trying so hard to recite out their girl's code without giving more information away, but she knew Farha wouldn’t let her be.
“Girl! You aren’t alone!” Farha screamed at the pitch of her voice while she giggled.
“I think I should call you later, Farha.”
“Make sure you take a picture of him!” Farha screamed out loud before she ended the call, and Jalilah couldn’t help but smile. She didn’t know what had gotten into Farha’s head today, what happened to their girl rule? There was no way she was breaking that. Just because she had admitted he was handsome at a first glance didn’t mean anything. She wasn’t blind for her not to see what was all over his face, was she?
They got down and she kept following that he was finally fed up and he turned to look at her, “What’s wrong with you?” He asked with a straight voice and he caught her off guard.
“I don’t know the mosque, somehow I figured out that’s where you’re heading to, that’s why.” She could see the way his Adam’s Apple bubbled up and down before he turned and walked away. She was sure he wanted to speak to her but stopped himself, maybe she had gotten him when she said she wanted to locate the mosque.
She kept following him until they reached the mosque and she saw the entrance of the female’s toilet. She looked over at him and realized he had already gotten into the mosque. She was glad she had already performed her ablution in the office, if not she would have wasted more than enough time locating the toilet here. She walked into the mosque and immediately started praying. When they were done, she stopped a lady that was walking out of the mosque with a polite smile on her lips.
“Hello, please, is there a cafeteria or restaurant nearby? Just where I can buy some food?” She asked, and the lady nodded her head while taking Jalilah’s outstretched hand for a shake.
“I have a lot of work to do, I’d have taken you there. But there’s a cafeteria mainly for snacks and some light foods inside the company. But if you don’t want that, you can go to a nearby restaurant, just a few feet away from the company.” Jalilah fixed her veil and smiled appreciatively at her.
“Thank you, my name is Jalilah. I’m a copper.”
“My name is Wafiyya, I started working here last year. You’re welcome to our company, I pray you to get hired after you’re done with your service.” They exchanged phone numbers because Jalilah figured out she would be needing more of her held before they parted way. She stood there thinking of the best place to go and eat. She knew maybe the cafeteria was full by now, but realizing this wasn’t the proper time for lunch, she realized maybe it would barely be empty. She smiled at herself and walked toward where Wafiyya told her the cafeteria was.
She pushed the door and entered with a soft Salam on her lips even though she knew none of the few people eating there would hear her, but it was a habit she wouldn’t let go of just because she was in Abuja. She moved to the counter, placed her order before she walked to a table by the window side, and sat down. She figured out the right way to prevent her mind from thinking too much was by calling Farha via video call, and she pulled out her phone without thinking twice.
“Girl!” She waved with a wide grin, glad that she had come along with her AirPods, if not, there was no way Farha wouldn’t embarrass her in this cafeteria. She stared at the beautiful and smiling face of Farha while she waved back at her with a wink.
“Just get into it, I can’t wait. You weren’t acting normal, Jalilah. Have you taken the picture I asked you to?” She asked, and Jalilah threw her head back and laughed, glaring at her.
“What made you think it was a guy, Farha? You know the rules, girl! We aren’t ready yet!” She grinned at her and rolled her eyes when Farha made a grunting sound. “How’s Lagos? How’s Baba? Have you been thanking him for me every day?” Farha stayed in Lagos with her parents, she was the only child too, and their friendship wouldn’t have been better. Just that had no father anymore.
“Baba kept saying you should be careful of those Abuja guys if only he knew!” They laughed at the same time and that was when Jalilah noticed the guy that just sat on the table opposite her, while they were facing each other even though on a different table was no one but him, and she couldn’t resist rolling her eyes.
She didn’t know when she looked away and that expression she had on her face didn’t miss Fadwa’s eyes. “What’s with the look, Jalilah?” She asked, and Jalilah softly smiled.
“Make it a takeaway please.” She told the waiter because she was certain there was no way she would peacefully eat her food while she had this guy sitting right across her on his table. She knew he wouldn’t look at her, but she knew he was there, and that too was enough.
“Nothing, I’m just so hungry and I’d have to miss my class today because we close at 5:30 pm and I have a lot of work to do at home, that’s all.” She scrunched up her face and a part of her eyes stealthily looked up at him. He was ducked into his phone doing the only god knew, and she watched as the waiter asked him what he wanted. ‘The usual,’ that’s all he said. And Jalilah got curious about what his usual would be like.
“Turn the damn camera, Jalilah!” Farha screamed, and that was when she knew she had been staring at him for long.
She quickly masked up her expression, “Why do I have to turn it? What do you want to see? The cafeteria? Farha you can’t disgrace me here, you know that right?” She asked with a hard face, wishing that Farha would let go of her words, but she didn’t.
“Just turn the damn camera, Jalilah. I don’t trust you, you’re staring at a guy, let’s rate him and see.”
“Far…” she wanted to argue, but Farha gave her that straight look that said ‘Look, I know you’re lying. Let’s just get it over with.’ She had no choice but to roll her eyes at Farha before she reluctantly turned the camera and right there, she got the chance to stare at him. How he sat down, how he intensely stared at his phone, everything about him.
“Wallahi he’s cute! Jalilah! This guy is hot oh my freaking god!” Farha’s scream jolted her out of her trance and she quickly masked up her emotions before she turned back the camera.
“He’s my manager, mind your words. It’s not what you’re trying to cook up.” She rolled her eyes while she spoke through gritted teeth afraid that he would hear what she was telling her.
The waiter brought her food and she stood up, holding the leather with one hand while she slung her bag over her shoulder with the other. She moved to the counter doing all she could to ignore Farha’s exaggerating words before she walked out of the cafeteria. She wished she could take another look at him, but that’s likely not going to happen. She had to prove her crazy best friend wrong.