The New Job Valentine Ukachukwu Umelo (Nigeria)
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange
The New Job
Valentine Ukachukwu Umelo (Nigeria)
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
The New Job
I was in heaven. Was it really happening? I wondered for the thousandth time. To make sure, I pinched myself. Pain zipped through my body. Convinced I was not daydreaming, I glanced around the official car …my official car again. A Mitsubishi Jeep. Only fairly used. Everything from the sparkling white exterior to the soft, black leather interior reeked of ‘executiveness’. I thought, So I too was now an executive. I chuckled. Unbelievable. Only last week, I still had my small, rickety wooden table in a crowded office where I had laboured since graduating from the university. All five odd years of mentally shielding curses, dodging abuses and stomaching psychological torture from ‘executives’. All suddenly over.
I inhaled the aromatic odour of the leather vanish. Sweet. Deeply, I inhaled again. Like liquorice on the throat, slow music seeping out of super hi-tech stereo soothed my nerves. As my jeep tore on, I didn’t feel the familiar bumps from potholes, which made macabre designs on the highway, like deep bullets wounds upon a wall. But I knew the potholes were there, constant as the sun blazing in the white, cloudless sky. I peered out. Solitary, twisted leafless tree scattered among the burnt out grassland on either side of the road rushed past in the opposite direction, as if late for an all-important appointment. Still amazed at the sudden turn my life had taken, I shivered.
“Turn down the AC a bit,” I said to my driver, using my most ‘executive’ voice.
My head doubled. I had this funny feeling, as if I was going to faint or something. I clutched my seat’s leatherworks. Life, oh life is sweet, I thought. When was the last time I was addressed as ‘sir’? It occurred to me that no one had ever addressed me as such. But it didn’t matter anymore. I was now a ‘Sir’, on my way to a new job. My title? APM, short for Assistant Project Manager. I mouthed it: APM. Twice. Thrice. It sounded great; too great.
I didn’t care that the new job was in the bush, hundreds of kilometres from the city, after all, I reasoned, I had no wife to keep warm at night. It didn’t also matter that my new boss was a ‘she’. I had never had problems working with women. I knew how to handle them. ‘Let them alone and they will let you alone’, was my slogan. It was yet to fail me.
Such high ranking, high paying job as an APM! How could one fail to guard it with his life, to the extent of being accused of ineptitude and then sacked? I was thinking of the buffoon I was going to replace. Such a fool. Well, his loss, my gain, I thought. The day I had gone to collect my appointment letter, a man I had never met before had dragged me to a corner.
“Never shy away from your primary responsibilities like the other fellow who was sacked,” he said. I nodded. “As well,” he continued, “pay greater attention to all other duties that may be assigned to you from time to time.”
I thanked him profusely. Even now as my official car ate away and shortened the distance between Kuntaur and I, I strengthened my resolve to execute my primary, secondary and even tertiary responsibilities meticulously. Not that executing my responsibilities was a challenge anyway. Suddenly I was curious.
“What’s the boss like?” I said to my driver.
“Yes, the boss. What’s she like?”
“You will meet madam, sir.”
“Yes, I know I will meet her, but I was just wondering what she’s like.”
“No need to wondering, sir. You will meet her. She is a big woman.”
A big woman! A mighty big help indeed, I thought and regretted asking. The driver might begin to think I was being too nosy. I tucked it in my subconscious never to ask such trivial questions again of him. Shamefaced, I took a closer look at the man on the driver’s seat. He was an austere, wiry fellow. The side of his face reminded me of the back of an old, aluminium pot. I didn’t know whether to hate or like him.
Kuntaur is an open landscape. The cows, sheep and goats- thin from lack of nourishment- were trooping home from the sun-scorched fields by the time we arrived. The sun, a large ball of fire in the horizon bathed the thatched roofs and plains a golden yellow.
“Oh you are much welcome,” my boss, the PM (Project Manager) said gleefully as I alighted from my executive jeep. I blinked severally. There was no mistaking what signal my eyes were relating to my brain.
“How was the journey?” she said. “Hope it wasn’t tedious?”
The shrill, tiny voice didn’t match the mass emitting it. Suddenly, I understood what my driver had meant when he said, ‘She is a big woman’. Squat is the most appropriate word to describe the way she was spread out, reminding me of the squashed image one sees of himself as he passes some kinds of mirror. There was a small head, with the sparse hair on it cropped low in a masculine style. The neck was non-existent. Arms resembled thighs; thighs reminded me of a baobab trunk. The stomach, God. Where did her waist begin and end? I wasn’t going to find out, definitely, I told myself, remembering my slogan. Then I favoured her with my most ‘executive’ smile as I answered:
“No, the journey was quite wonderful, ma …madam er…”
“Hoja Manneh …Miss Hoja Manneh.”
“I am quite pleased to meet you.”
“Pleased to meet you too.”
To complete the ritual, we shook hands. There was vitality in her slim, attractive fingers. It was impossible to assign any age to Miss Manneh. She could be anything from thirty to fifty.
“Don’t stand there staring like a Zombie, Faal,” Miss Manneh shouted at my driver. “Bring his things from the car. Take them to the guest room in my apartment.”
I saw a flicker of hesitation rise in Faal and subsequently went out, like a match struck in the face of a fierce wind. I was beginning to hate my driver. Why was he showing signs of insubordination? Over a delicious meal of potato chips and steak (prepared of course by my boss), she explained things to me.
“We have been unfortunate getting you your own place. We hope to do so soon. You don’t mind managing the guest room here for now, do you?”
“Mind? Why, no,” I said, licking Ketchup away from my upper lip.
“You are still entitled to your night allowances while we are searching for your own place.”
I was surprised. I had assumed that since I already had a temporary place offered to me by her, I was no longer entitled to my night allowances. I spoke my mind to Miss Manneh.
“No, no, no,” she cried. “I’ll sign the claim for you, after all, I could be charging you for using my guest room, couldn’t I?”
I saw the logic, and thanked her, thinking of all the money I would be raking in. I even began to pray that it took Personnel all the time in the world getting me my own place.
“You may call me Hoja,” she said, smiling as she cleared the dinner table later.
“You are very kind, Hoja,” I said, overwhelmed by her niceness.
“It seems we would work well together, you and I,” she said, still smiling.
“I am sure we would,” I said.
Next day, Hoja took me round the office complex, making introductions. I felt like a king. Junior workers and auxiliary staff spoke in hushed tones as we approached, their hushed tones resuming as we took our leave. I even caught some female workers sizing me up. Unconsciously, I straightened my blue, silk tie and adjusted my woollen trousers.
Towards afternoon, as I hurriedly passed a partially open door on my way to the toilet, I heard some people talking quietly and giggling.
“Let’s see how long this one would last,” someone said.
Instinctively, I knew I was the subject of their discussion. As I couldn’t bring myself to slow down and eavesdrop, I walked back to my well-furnished office, my legs seeming to buckle at the knee, nature’s call forgotten. Through the remainder of the day, I went about with the feeling that all eyes were on me; as if I had committed some unforgivable crime or something. There seemed to be an uneasy calm pervading the whole regional office. I felt trapped. As Faal drove me home later, I forgot my resolve not to ask anything trivial of him.
“Just try and be careful,” he said solemnly, like a priest, when I relayed the conversation I had overheard.
“Be careful of what,” I cried out. “I have only just arrived.”
“I know,” Faal said, somewhat sympathetically. “You are not the first.”
“The first for what,” I shouted, banging a clenched fist on an empty seat. “Why won’t anybody tell me what I needed to know?”
When night came, I made benechin in the kitchenette, knowing it would be distrustful to expect Miss Manneh to cater for me again. Having done a poor job of eating my tasteless diner, I lay down on my back to ponder my new job. When I fell asleep, I didn’t know. Neither did I know how long the eerie knocking on my door had been going on. I first heard it somewhere in my ghost and dragon filled dream. I was glad to be awake. The solitary 60- watt bulb hanging overhead was still burning. The standing fan I had set for an hour and half had since switched off. I was sweating. A glance at my wristwatch by the bedside table revealed that it was well past midnight.
What could Miss Manneh want at this time of the night, I wondered. Surely, what ever it was could wait until morning. Or maybe it couldn’t. Perhaps she was ill. And I didn’t know where the health centre was. Alas, my first challenge was staring me in the face. I recalled that kind gentleman’s advice about paying attention to my secondary duties. Here was one. I mumbled a quick prayer.
Opening the door, I went blank. When I came to, the cause of my temporary loss of consciousness was still there, gazing at me like an oracle. She carried a jug in one hand. I croaked:
“I told you to call me Hoja, didn’t I,” she said sternly.
She silenced me with one slim finger across my quivering lips. Before when she was fully clothed, Miss Manneh wasn’t a pretty sight. Now, stark naked, she was repugnant. No wonder I was having nightmares.
“Don’t you like me?” she said.
I opened my mouth to say something but closed it when nothing came out. Gently, she took my right hand. Like a shepherd, she led me. Too dazed to resist, I followed meekly.
It was a hectic night. In all my twenty-nine odd years, I had never experienced anything like it. I was chewed and sucked; sucked and chewed. At one stage, I saw myself cry like a baby. When I dried up, she passed me the jug.
“Take a large swig,” she said. “The milk is warm. It will do you good.”
I drank. On her command, I resumed action. Hoja, despite her bulk was a tireless acrobat. She sat, bent, lay on her back, on her enormous stomach. She wriggled. She squatted. Christ. She sang and she cried, animal cries that made me fear for my life. It wasn’t until the wee hours of the morning that she let me off.
Later when I stepped out of the house to go to work, Faal took one look at me and shook his head.
“So what are you going to do now?” he said.
I said nothing. I thought of my rickety old table in my former overcrowded office, which seemed billions of miles away. How I missed it. My air-conditioned jeep that ferried me to work was to me a moving prison.
I began to plot my escape.
That night, Hoja came again. Naked. With her jug of warm milk. This time too, she brought along a tube of cream.
“Rub it over your entire length,” she told me. When I pretended not to have heard her, she did the job herself. Painstakingly, she expressed the white cream into her left palm. She then recapped the tube, put it away in a corner. I undressed when she ordered me.
“Hello Johnny boy,” she crooned. “Mummy is here. Time for your dinner.”
She took me, placed me on this palm containing the cream. She then began to stroke and rub the cream all over my entire length. Despite myself, I began to breathe hard. She continued to stroke, all the while uttering sheer nonsensities.
“Lie down on your back,” she said. “On the floor.”
The cement floor was cold. My erection ebbed but did not die. Then she lowered herself on me. Completely. It was easy. She was all moist. I moaned. She moaned. We moaned. She rode me, like a pony in the amusement park. Up and down. Up and down. Then she let out that animal cry. I tried to control her by holding her close. Before she departed, she gave me her mouth. I kissed it. Full. Nothing short of that would have satisfied her.
“Tomorrow night,” she said. “The cream. Put it away in a safe place.”
I took the cream, opened my valise, hid it in a secret chamber.
I was trapped. I wanted to run away like the other fellows before me. But where was the willpower? For two weeks, Hoja continued to take advantage of me. I moped around the work place. Each night, she demanded some exotic style. From the rear. From the side. Then one night as she left, she stopped at the door, turned back and said, ‘You make me feel good about myself. Thank you.’ I was actually beginning to resent her selfishness. I thought, Her satisfaction was all that mattered, not how I felt. But over the next days, Hoja began to be less domineering, letting me lead her. I was surprised at myself. Why, I knew a few things. She even complemented me.
I began to look forward to Hoja’s midnight visit. When we met along the corridors of the office complex, we exchanged knowing glances. I sought her out for the flimsiest reason. And it was not difficult locating her. Her laughter rang out loud and clear all over the place.
“What have you been doing to her,” Faal said one day as we drove home after work.
“Nothing,” I said.
“You will stay put then?”
It was more of a statement than a question.
“She has never been so happy,” Fall said again, as if talking to himself. “She even acknowledges our greetings now.”
I said nothing.
“Why did you decide to stay?” Hoja said.
It was two months into my new job. We were in bed. I had found my own apartment and had moved out of Hoja’s guest room. Everyone at the regional office had accepted me as part and parcel of the place. And we had become lovers, Hoja and I, staying alternate nights at the other’s apartment. Today, we were in my apartment. The moon was struggling to break out from the distant sky.
“You could have found another job,” Hoja continued. “You are a hard worker.”
“Let’s just say I decided to stay for my own reasons,” I said.
“I am not the reason then,” Hoja said. “You don’t really love me. No one has ever loved me.”
Tears rolled down her face. It was the first time I had seen her let her emotions flow unchecked. I let her cry.
“Wipe you tears,” I said after about three minutes. I gave her some ply pocket tissues. “You don’t want anybody to see you crying so. What would Faal think for example?”
“I don’t care what people think or say about me,” she said amidst sobs.
“You should care what people say about you,” I said.
“They are not me,” she said. “They are not the one everyone has chosen to abandon. They are not the one men have chosen not to have anything to do with because she is fat. This body, you don’t know how much pain it has caused me. Do you know how much boys laughed and made fun of me because I was bloated and obese-like. Do you know how many names I have had to live with or endure? Fatso. Balloon. Stinky.”
“I have told you severally, you don’t smell to me.”
“You are patronizing me again. It makes me feel even worse.”
“Believe what you want, but I mean it. It is just female hormones. Progesterone.”
“Once, desperate for a date, I approached this boy I had a heavy crush on. ‘Can I come with you to tonight’s movie?’ I said. It was in high school. I broke tradition. I really wanted to be appreciated. He laughed at me. Openly.”
“You should have waited it out. The one who loved you for you would have surely come. Like I did.”
Hoja sat erect abruptly.
“You don’t mean that-”
“Shhhhhh,” I said, putting a finger across her quivering lips. I felt the palm of her right hand. It was clammy. The weather. Her nails were polished. Brilliantly manicured. She had always taken her nails seriously. ‘It is the only positive thing people notice about me,’ she once told me. ‘Even women admire my nails.’ I enfolded her slim wrist with my fingers. Raising the hand to my lips, I kissed them one after the other.
“You don’t mean you stayed because of me,” she said, breathless.
“I have come to love you.”
“Come on Hoja,” I said. “Are you not a human being? A woman? Are you not capable of being loved?”
“Yes I stayed because of you. I understood how lonely you were.”
“No you didn’t. You don’t know what loneliness of heart means, what it can make you do.”
“Still, you shouldn’t have decided on your line of action.”
“I had to use what I have to get what I want. As soon as I knew I was in a position of power, I used it to get all the sex I had been starved of since I first broke into puberty.”
“But what you got instead was pain, not satisfaction. The last fellow beat you up afterwards, did you not tell me so?”
I touched Hoja’s nape, massaged it. That was where the last fellow had struck her before fleeing into the dead of night.
“I too have been lonely,” I said. “I could have found another job or returned to my old job. But since that first evening I saw you, I had fallen in love with your beautiful hands.”
Hoja examined her hands. I took them in mine, kissed them again.
“Especially your fingers,” I said. “They are so beautiful. Like a doll’s.”
I licked the fingers, one after the other.
“But,” I said, “you nearly spoilt everything. You almost scared me off.”
“I am sorry,” Hoja said, sniffing.
“You are easy to be with,” I said. “And you are kind. Attentive too. Can’t you see how much flesh I have added on from your care? Besides, you are attractive in a special kind of way. One only has to look.”
“No one has ever said such kind words as these to me before.”
“You and I have more things in common than you can imagine. My mother’s death after high school knocked me out. I kind of withdrew from society. My father didn’t remarry. And we never got along well, my father and I. I am tired of being alone.”
It was as if this confession shattered the final barrier between Hoja and I. We suddenly connected to each other, like a key and padlock. Hoja drew me close, held me tight.
“Never leave me,” I whispered softly into her ears. I was surprised at myself. Was that tears in my eyes.
“Why did it take so long to find you?” Hoja said and sighed.
She drew my head into the enormous cleavage her bosom. Several minutes passed. Our hearts rose and fell in rhythm. Slowly, our hands sought and found each other. We touched, kissed. Hoja licked away my tears. We licked each other’s bodies; nibbled each other’s ears, explored each other’s orifices. Finally we made love, at first fiercely, then slowly, long long into the night, the moon rays wafting into the room our light; the crickets chipping merrily away in the grasses our chaperon.