The meal was not long in coming. While we ate, we talked about the general insecurity which pervaded the country, the increased cases of kidnappings and bombings; we even talked briefly about the high cost of living brought on by high inflation, which in its turn was caused by all the upheaval in the banking industry. Surprisingly, Baraquat had been more than sufficiently knowledgeable in these matters. Especially when it came to banking and other financial matters.
“I have been in banking for two years now,” She announced, when she noticed my questioning look, “It was not easy but I have been lucky and very persistent.”
Once again, I was struck by the intense drive behind her personality. This was someone who had been through the lowest depths in life, but rose beyond those lows to set foot on higher and more assured ground. From the discussion at the table while we ate, I gathered that she had attended OAU, which incidentally was where I also studied, a few years ahead of her set; she earned her degree in Financial Marketing, almost bagging a first class to boot. She was still in the university when she got a job placement with a reputable financial consulting firm. The circumstance leading to her engagement was as fortuitous as it was almost incredible to believe.
According to the story, she was offered the placement after she had given an incisive analysis of the economy during a seminar organized by the firm, as part of activities marking her faculty week celebrations, during the second semester of her final year at OAU; her analysis had postulated that the economic measures being implemented by the Pres. Obasanjo led government was artificial and does not address the deeper issues of inflation and gross inactivity in the non-oil sectors of the economy. She had gone as far as predicting an economic meltdown if the current economic policies were not altered or jettisoned altogether, in support of policies hinged on reviving the non-oil sectors of the economy. She had given several examples and reeled off statistics to back up her argument.
Her submissions must have thoroughly impressed the CEO of the financial firm; he approached her after the seminar and offered her a trainee spot after her final papers. She had worked there ever since. After her NYSC, which she served in the same firm, she rose quickly through the ranks to the post of a deputy manager in charge of the oil and gas portfolios in less than eight months; her penchant for thorough research analysis and ability to make almost perfect financial projections that have saved several of the firm’s clients hundreds of millions a critical factor in her rapid success.
“I am a magician of some sorts with figures,” she admitted shy.
The meal itself was superb. Simple dish of eba and ogbono soup packed with a wide assortment of shrimps, mushrooms and some other delicacies I knew nothing about. It had tasted like none other I ever ate. I was mildly surprised that I ate ravenously, considering I am a light-eater. It however delighted Baraquat and her auntie that I asked for a second helping of the eba.
“You see, a woman dey like when her man like and appreciate her cooking skills,” Baraquat’s auntie had quipped with a half smile at my embarrassed look when they laughed when I asked to be served again.
“Hmm, you don’t say?”
“If you no eat at least a second serving, I for think say I no teach Baraquat well or you be very hard man to please,” she teased.
“Oh no! I am not a hard man. Pleasing me does not take much, really. I thoroughly enjoyed the meal.”
Baraquat beamed at the complement while her auntie just auntie in a half-amused understanding fashion. The rest of the meal was finished in relative silence.
We retired to the sitting area after the meal, where somehow the sitting arrangement had changed. Baraquat now sat beside me on the double-seater couch. Her auntie remained at the dining table, out of earshot and not showing any particular interest in joining us for the next round of the interview.
Somehow, I sensed that she understood. Like she sensed what has not been said between I and Baraquat. Things that needed to be said, but can’t be.
It was inexplicable, but it is there and it is firm. There had been women in my life, but none had made me feel this way on a first meeting. The way my heartbeat pounded when our hands touched slightly in the sink while I helped out with the dishes after the meal, the sense of helplessness I felt every time I caught her eyes; It was like I was fifteen all over again.
Right now, I just wanted to get the rest of the story out of her. Unravel the mystery woven around the seemingly straight-forward religious/ethnic violence in the Idi-Araba districts almost eight years ago. As we sat there facing each other I wondered if I will ever have the chance to bare my feelings to her. Or if I even wanted to….
She carried a burden which I have not gotten my finger on. A burden which she has kept away from our discussions so far. How heavy it was I had no idea, but it weighed on her. Something clouds her like a loathsome aura, a plague. The furtiveness of her composure when I first arrived still played in my mind- she was so pensive and so lonely. Granted there had been a remarkable improvement since then; granted she had made my heart skip and jump at every instant our eyes touched, there was still that part of her that is buried in something deeper than what I see now. We have not gotten there yet.
But as I placed my tape recorder on the center table, I knew in my heart we were on the last lap.
Where does this lead us? I was now almost a part of the story as the real characters, the victims. Afraid of where the story may end up, but also anxious to be a part of it till the end and even beyond.
I sighed under my breath before stretching my hands to press down the record button
“Are you ready?” I asked.
Her eyes belied her true state of mind, but she nodded nonetheless.
* * *
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