Ihechi shook her head, clearing her head of the flashback that she had re-played so many times in the past year and some, so much so that if the memory was a compact disc plate, it would have acquired a cracked surface at this time.
A lot had happened to her in this past year. A lot of things that made her wonder if that man, that Head of Chamber whose name she hadn’t even bothered to find out, had cursed her.
She’d joined a small church, The All-Seeing Jehovah Intercessory Ministry, whose founder was acclaimed to be a diviner of sorts. He could look at you and tell you the genesis of your troubles, some reports had it. This was so unlike her. She had always scoffed at people who made such claims about their pastors. During a service in the church, two months after she joined the congregation, she sat, observing this man of God as he pranced up and down the elevated podium at the front of the hotel hall, which was used as the church’s meeting venue, and listening to him berating the worshippers for not caring enough for the things of the Lord, for building houses and living in them while the House of the Lord ‘lieth waste.’ He fumed and warned (more like, threatened) the congregation that God would create a hole in their pockets, so that anything they put in would slip and fall away and get lost, if they did not start building for the Lord.
This juncture of the pastor’s righteous reprehension instantly pulled Ihechi out of her hypnosis. Thinking back, she realized that her savings was depleting considerably every week, because of seed-sowings and prophet offerings which she ‘freely’ gave. Now, this man was here, telling her that God was about to cut a hole in her pocket. Well, she’d mused, that will be the pockets of your church members, because, I hereby denounce my membership of this church. With that, she got up and stalked out of the church. Right there in the middle of service.
She had to move out of her cousin’s house, where she stayed during service. Brother Uche was a cool guy, he worked with EcoBank, and did not have problem at all. Until his girlfriend, Chioma came into the picture in all her educated Aba glory. The woman saw her as a threat, for God-knows-what reason, and antagonized Ihechi every chance she got. After they – Brother Uche and Chioma – got married, the new madam had insisted Ihechi refer to her as ‘Aunty’. Before long, she’d started listing out chores for her every day, saying she was helping her not to become the devil’s workshop. Ihechi quickly had enough, and in an indignant huff, she moved out of her cousin’s place, and got her own place in Pyakasa, one of the slums of Abuja where accommodation was a lot cheaper than what was obtainable in Wuse II; as she moved into her new crib, she vowed that her stay there would be just for a year. After one year, she started paying her landlady in bits of two thousand and five thousand whenever her wahala became too much.
She tried her hands in all sorts of legal things in a bid to keep body and soul together. Thank God her neighbours didn’t know she was a lawyer. It gave her the fortitude to sell recharge cards without shame.
One time, while she was discussing with Esther, one of her mates from university, Esther had made fun of ‘hungry lawyers’ who hang out at CAC gates, hounding anyone, who looked like a JJC and who was headed for the premises, whether they wanted to register any company. Ihechi had dredged up a hearty laughter at Esther’s snark, while her mind taunted her with the reminder that she was a hungry lawyer, and was as such laughing at herself.
A few days after her chat with Esther, she went to CAC to hang out at the gate, and to see if she could score any clients. She kept meeting her colleagues, both from the university and law school, those who had genuine businesses at CAC, and those who hadn’t. She observed the desperation that was etched on every crevice on their countenances and floundering optimism that held them up and kept them going. She cringed at the hustle; she couldn’t bring herself to be part of it. And so, she went home, telling herself that she was not ‘that hungry’.
Shaking herself out of her reflections of the recent past, Ihechi lifted herself up from her mattress, and moved to her wooden book-rack nailed to the wall to fish out her CV, and to bring down her law notes to study for the interview, muttering over and over again, “This one must work…”
The cab driver stopped in front of Dabino Plaza at a few minutes to 9am. Ihechi got down and paid the driver, before walking into the plaza complex with purposeful steps.
The sun was already making the promise of putting in a hard day’s work. Ihechi was grateful that she wore a white shirt of light material under her suit jacket. The shirt was stylishly-sewn, ruffled at the neck and down the button line, the ruffles stopping right at the middle of the shirt. She wore this with a high-waisted skirt, making the band of the skirt’s waistline begin where the ruffles stopped. If one didn’t look well, he’d think it was a gown she was wearing. She completed the attire with sensible, medium-heeled black shoes made of patent leather. She was totally dressed for success.
Mama Gold Solicitors was not difficult to locate; it was on the ground floor of the plaza, with a modest signpost that beckoned to her, assuring her that she was at the right place.
She walked into the office and was greeted by the blessedly cool blast of an air conditioner.
“Oh thank you, Jesus,” she muttered.
“Good morning, may I help you?” A cheery voice greeted from her left.
“Oh yes, good morning,” Ihechi said as cheerfully and confidently as she could manage with her palpitating heart, as she turned to face the woman who had spoken. “I am here for an interview. I got a call yesterday from one Barrister Kingsley, asking me to come in for an interview today.”
“Oh!” said the lady from behind her burnished desk. “You came early. The interview is scheduled for 10 am.”
“Yes, I know that. But I wanted to escape the traffic jam that usually plagues the city gate. So, I came out a bit earlier,” Ihechi said, shrugging and hoping her desperation wasn’t very obvious.
“That’s okay. You can sit down and wait till 10 am, or if you have somewhere to go, you can go and come back by that time.”
“Oh no!” Ihechi cut in. “No. I’ll just wait.” Seeing the woman’s somewhat surprised expression, she explained, “The sun out there can roast yam. You cannot imagine.” She added a nervous laugh.
“Oh!” The woman’s expression showed that she understood.
Ihechi sat on one of the chairs at the reception and waited, looking around and assessing the office that would soon be her place of work. Yes, she had faith to that effect, and hers was way more than a mustard seed. It was a mango seed.
The reception was a large, well lit space, the walls were painted white and there was a 22-inch flat-screen television hanging from the wall with CNN showing on its screen. The secretary’s table and chair was set in the left hand side of the reception, and there was a cubicle just after the table which gave the secretary’s space a cubicle-like feel, without it actually being a cubicle. There was a huge photocopier cum scanner which stood close to the secretary. Ihechi recognized this because she had used it severally at Agbo SAN’s office.
Wow, she exclaimed mentally. This is it!
Then she rummaged into her hand bag, and retrieved the paperback novel she carried for the purpose of waiting – City of Gold by Len Deighton – and buried her nose in it.
“Do you want a drink? Or tea?” piped up the secretary, her inquiry rousing Ihechi from the novel she was just settling into.
“Uhm… Me?” Ihechi asked, slightly taken aback. Inwardly, she exclaimed, Tea ke? Na oyibo office I come so oh! Then out loud, she said, “Err…no, thank you. I’m ok.”
“Alright. I’m Comfort, by the way,” the secretary supplied with a bright smile.
Yeah, you’re also bored, Ihechi thought sardonically. Dredging up an equally bright smile, she said, “I’m Barrister Ihechi.”
“Of course, I know you’re a barrister!” Comfort said, with a flick of her hand. “It is only lawyers we are interviewing today.”
Seeing that Comfort was in a chatty mood, Ihechi decided to ask her some inside questions. Who knew what answer she could get out of her that would square her this job that she desperately wanted.
“Oh really? How many lawyers are you guys looking for?” she asked, aiming for a nonchalance in the query that she didn’t feel.
“I don’t know o… Maybe one or two… You see,” Comfort launched into the gist, “our boss has been saying that he wants to employ one more lawyer. Then one of the lawyers resigned. So, I don’t know if he will just replace her or replace her and take one more person.”
“Why did she resign? The lawyer, I mean,” Ihechi pressed further.
“I don’t know o! She just came one morning and dropped the letter with me and left. I don’t even like her sef. She likes sending me to go and buy her food, and she will just give me transport and money for her food. She does not know how to give somebody commission.”
“Oh!” Ihechi said, not sure what more to say.
“But you seem like a cool person sha. I wish they will take you,” Comfort enthused, making Ihechi uncomfortable.
She shrugged. “I wish the same thing too, but it will take more than wishing.”
“Yeah! I know. Just be sure to blow your trumpet for him when he calls you in,” Comfort said in a dramatically hushed voice and leaning forward as though she was imparting some highly classified information to a potential recruit. “Tell him where you have worked, the things you have done. But don’t let him know you are hyping yourself. Say it like in a humble manner.” She finished and sat back with another bright smile.
“Ok, thanks!” Ihechi said, responding with a bright smile of her one, this one more sincere than the first.
About ten minutes later, other lawyers started trickling in. By the time it was seven minutes past 10, there were seven lawyers seated in the reception, waiting for the interview.
Comfort went into the Head of Chamber’s office, and came out moments later. Looking as officious as she could manage, she called, “Ihechi Chibiko, you can go in now.”
As Ihechi walked past her, toward the Head of Chamber’s office, the secretary whispered, “Good luck.”
Written by The Counsel