Steve was my boss’s boss and he was the office’s idea of brilliance: he was driven, he got the job done and he also had a friendly disposition whilst not losing respect of subordinates and peers.
“Are we stressing you too much?” he asked with a small smile that said, “I’m sure it is not the work but whatever it is, it is going to be okay”. I smiled through my tears, drying my eyes with the back of my left hand thoroughly embarrassed to have been caught in such a situation. He offered me his handkerchief and walked away, his hands grazing mine briefly and holding on to the piece of white cloth a tad longer than was required. I felt funny inside and I should have known I was courting danger when Steve randomly included me on his team.
It was so atypical and everyone wondered how I managed to gain his attention. Steve was reputed to deal with only the best hands. The story is told of how he never looks at work that had not gone through at least 4 rounds of review. His team members never ever included newbies except where the newbie was a strategic hire and had remarkable experience. Even those who were reputed to have a relaxed attitude to work brought their A-game when dealing with Steve and I definitely should have smelt a fish. I knew I was working hard. I knew I was kicking ass at work. But I would have been lying through my teeth if I said I believed I had earned the right to seat at a strategy meeting with Stephen Okafor.
I have now learned never ever to judge anyone again or mess with how sleek and subtle the devil can be. I have learned that it is not only the Shaniquas, the Sister Caros and bleached out 28 inch Filipino hair wearing girls that cheat or have affairs with married men. Even good girls can fall into the trap. I was brought up in a strict Christian home and because I have 3 sisters, my parents were super hands on with us. My dad was very protective and many a time, he would drive us to parties, wait in the car to take us home. He was the softer parent and would spare nothing to give us the best yet raising us in a strict but healthy environment. I was a good girl all through my life in every sense of the word. I can never forget the look of shock on Femi’s face on our wedding night. I realized he thought I was pretending when I proclaimed I had never gone the whole nine yards before. I was therefore surprised at how I started nursing unholy thoughts about Steve.
I was flattered by the attention from Steve and I saw myself bending over backwards to prove that I deserve a seat at the table he invited me to. Once I received an update of an upcoming meeting with Steve, I would spend endless hours researching every aspect of the issues for deliberation so that if called upon, I would impress him. I also found myself wearing more makeup and launching my new office clothes out of turn. I was impressed with the way he reasoned, the way he analysed issues, the way he was kind to both the Vice Presidents and Senior Consultants and the drivers and cleaners alike. He was very fair in his ways and was also extremely fashionable. I discovered that his family live in Ghana and his wife is half Ghanaian, half Lebanese. I was shocked at myself when I stared at her picture with envy. She was stunning with long flowing hair and striking features. She was also a consultant working in a competing consulting firm and was reputed to also be a superstar at her office. I was disappointed at my thoughts and mentally slapped my cheek to bring myself back to reality.
My burgeoning feelings of admiration for Steve took a new turn at one Friday strategy meeting with the sub group he placed me in. After the strategy meeting, I was selected to attend a client meeting in Abeokuta with Steve and his professional side kick, Lakunle Ojo. If Steve was Batman, Lakunle was Robin. If Steve was Harvey Specter, Lakunle was Mike Ross. The client was a failing company that had recently received fresh funds and was looking to restructure its business operations. Steve had mapped out all sorts of strategies targeted at improving their performance and growth and it was clear that he was extremely passionate about this project from the way he drew diagrams and charts on the white board.
I felt so honoured when I looked round the table and realized I had no contemporary there. Judging from how I had caught Steve staring at me on a few occasions, it was unclear, however, if I was picked because of my bright brains or my bright blouse and lipstick. He had never spoken to me about the Coffee Room episode but he always greeted me specially when on our floor. None of the “big boys/girls” come to our corner. We, newbies, were packed in an Open Plan office and hardly would any senior consultant venture in there. If they needed to see someone, they would either call their extension directly or have someone else fetch them. So it was out of place to have Steve stop by and wave at me. The two times he did that, everyone turned back to see who the recipient of this attention was.
As the Abeokuta meeting was in Ogun state, I decided not to drive myself and rode instead with Lakunle to the venue. It was an extremely intense meeting and I was more in awe of Steve’s beautiful mind than ever before. The money spent on his MBA at Wharton was evidently well spent and so are the hours he spends guest lecturing at Lagos Business School.
At about 3:30 pm, Lakunle received a call from the office informing him that his urgent attention was required at a different meeting in Lagos by 5:30pm and he promptly left. The meeting in Abeokuta dragged on and on and by 7pm, I was visibly uncomfortable as there was no sign that there would be any end to the discussions. I was fidgeting and somewhere in my heart and mind, I knew I was in danger. My fears were confirmed when the MD of the company proclaimed, ‘we are truly sorry this is taking longer than planned but instead of rescheduling to continue another day, let us just conclude today, we shall sort out your accommodation here in the event we round up too late”. I had expected Steve to protest and insist on us returning to Lagos by 8 pm at the very latest but to my shock, he nodded in agreement and responded, “that’s fine”.
The meeting ended at 10:45pm and we were whisked away to a hotel, driven in the MD’s car with a promise to have us picked up the next morning to the office to meet up with Steve’s driver who was to be lodged in the staff quarters of the company. Something in my head told me to pick up the phone and call Femi and beg him to come get me that night. I know he would definitely have come and maybe my contrition would have begun the healing process for us. But I didn’t. Instead, I sat in the back seat of the MD’s 2015 Model Black Mercedes Benz S class as we rode in silence to the venue of my error.
Within 20 minutes, we approached Ibrahim Babangida Boulevard, Kuto and drove into Park Inn Radisson Blu. I sat down with Steve at the reception making awkward small talk as one of the staff of the company who had driven ahead of us chatted with the receptionist and walked back to us brandishing two keys. I was hoping we were placed on different floors but I was not that lucky. Steve was in Room 210, I was in 211. We said our goodnights and I got into my room, locked the door and fixed the latches and jumped into bed praying that the hours will fly by. I composed a text message to Femi informing him that I was not returning home that night. I had made an effort to explain the situation and even joked that I missed home. My message was 3 pages long but all I received in response was “K”; not “Okay”, not “OK” just “K”. I went to bed in my trouser suit, complete with the jacket and slept off with my make up on.
The harsh sound of a doorbell ringing followed by gentle but firm knocking woke me up. I looked at my wristwatch, it was 2:15 am. Something told me to ignore it totally and pretend I was asleep, but the other voice prevailed. I got up, looked into the peephole and there was Steve. As though offering me a last chance at resisting temptation, the first voice told me once more to tiptoe back to bed but the other voice said to me, “Oreoluwa, maybe Steve just wants to discuss work. Moreover, there is no way he hasn’t heard you. He would know you are ignoring him, thereby making things even more awkward between you tomorrow morning”.
Sadly, the latter voice prevailed on me and I opened the door.
To be continued…
The Lesson: Since I have not completed the story that leads to the lesson, I shall keep it very brief: If it looks like poop, smells like poop, you do not need to taste it to conclude it is indeed poop. The Bible was not kidding when it said to flee from appearances of evil. I saw myself developing feelings for a man who was clearly seducing and enticing me as well through showering me with undeserved favours and tasks. He saw me as a damsel in distress and swooped in on me. Whilst it may have been hard to refuse to attend the meeting or to insist on leaving the venue early, I definitely should have called my husband. Even if he would not have been able to come to get me, we could have spoken and that would have reinforced my resolve to love and honour and be faithful to him.
Hi people! Hope you are all enjoying Ore’s Corner as the plot thickens. Let’s find out how things go in the next part.