“Hello, am I speaking with Barrister Ihechi?”
“Yes. Who is this, and how may I help you?”
“This is Barrister Kingsley. I am calling to invite you for an interview at Mama Gold Solicitors.”
Her heart doubled its beat, and she found herself muttering a prayer – Which is ridiculous, a voice chastised her from within. I mean, they have already called you for interview. Are you praying for the success of the interview now that you should focus and get the details? Details that, if you fail to get it correctly, there won’t be an interview to succeed in.
These thoughts ran through her head in all of seven seconds. Seven seconds which it took her to snap out of it and focus.
“Yes, hello? When and where is the interview?” she spoke into her phone.
“Dabino Plaza. At 10 a.m. tomorrow. Come with your Curriculum Vitae.”
“OK. Thank you, sir.”
“Have a nice day, Barrister Ihechi.”
“Same to you, sir.” She clicked off the call
Barrister Ihechi was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2011, served between 2012 and 2013, and since then, she had been applying to various law firms and other offices, all to no avail.
Even she could not believe her fate. Her mates changed law firms like crazy, but, not one law firm had called her for an interview, let alone hire her. Well, except the one she rejected before even hearing them out. This was when she was still fresh out of service, and ‘young and stupid’. She believed then that she deserved more than what the firm had been offering.
The incident was still fresh and green in her memory, like it happened just yesterday.
She was shown into the office of the head of chamber. He was making – or taking – a call, so, he motioned for her to sit. She sat down across the table from the balding, grey-haired man, waiting for him to finish his call. The table was littered with papers spilling out of a tattered file. A laptop was on but it had entered sleep mode where pictures were spinning in and out of the screen. The head of chambers was obviously preparing a court process. There was Rules Of Court, wedged open on the table with one volume of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria. There were also several law reports on the table. Some were opened wide while the others were flagged. The table depicted that of a very hard working lawyer.
The windows of the office were opened as wide as the hinges could go, to let in air. The curtains were drawn open too. But the sun was high, bright and yellow in the sky, defying all the efforts put in to make the room cooler. Ihechi regretted wearing a suit to this interview. If only she wore a top under the suit, she would have taken off her jacket. But she was wearing a half-tube blouse; there was absolutely nothing she could do, without looking like a woman that her madness was just about to start. So, she stoically bore the heat, feeling rivulets of sweat streaming down her back and her armpits and making their way down to the band of her skirt.
The office was bare and sparsely decorated. A far cry from the office where she served, where the head of chamber’s office resembled a hallowed sanctum, with abstract paintings on the wall, finely polished wooden shelves with tomes and tomes of law books with their spines intact. The room was always cool, because the air conditioner was always on. PHCN had no power over them, because they had a huge generator that could carry the five air conditioners in the whole office unit at the same time. In fact, the head of chambers of the office where she served would not be found poring through law reports. If he needed (for any reason) to prepare a court process, he’d ask the juniors to make the research for him (he called it legal opinion, but who is he deceiving now?), stating clearly the authorities and the provisions. And then, the next day would find him handing over the prepared process (and money) to a junior to go and file for him, with his name boldly written on the document, as if it was his hard work. Anyway, no one complained, because he paid well, and any such trips to the court for filing came with bounty, because he willfully gave more than a thousand naira, an amount more than the required filing fee. Ihechi remembered once, she got two thousand naira and some change, and feeling uncomfortable with keeping the entire sum, she returned the money, earning herself a patronizing laugh from the head of chamber and an assurance that everything was done on purpose.
“You are welcome, Ms…?” the man before her said, snapping Ihechi out of her musing.
“Miss. Ihechi, sir,” she returned.
“Alright, Miss Ihechi” – his lips turned into a small self-deprecating smile as he dropped the stress on his correction – “We received your application, and we will like to work with you, if you’ll work with us.” His smile turned avuncular, as he rummaged through the pile of papers on his desk for a while, before coming up with a sheaf of papers jammed together with staple pin. As he dropped the sheaf before him, Ihechi could see it was her application, curriculum vitae and the photocopies of her credentials
“You just completed your NYSC with Barrister Agbo (SAN), right?” he said, peering at the papers he was holding.
Ihechi didn’t think he expected an answer, so she didn’t supply any.
“I see… I see…” he kept saying, reading through the CV, making Ihechi wonder if he was just reading it for the first time.
“So, you can prepare motions, move motions and do cross examinations?” This one was a question.
“Yes, sir,” Ihechi answered simply.
“Why do you want to work here?” he asked.
“I want a job,” Ihechi answered again, slightly irritated. She had lost interest in this office, and the heat wasn’t helping matters.
The man chuckled kindly and said, “You know we are not as big as Barrister Agbo. But by the grace of God, we will get there.”
Yeah?! When will that grace happen, when all your teeth are gone? Ihechi scoffed inwardly, while plastering a perfunctory smile on her face which looked more like a snarl.
“So, what would you like us to pay you?” he asked.
“I don’t know, sir. What do you want to pay me?”
“You tell me what you have in mind,” he said.
Hian! See this man oh! Ihechi thought with some exasperation. I was paid 70k monthly as a corper, what does he want me to say? She plucked a sum from mid-air and aloud, she said, “Hundred thousand naira.” Her face was as straight as a ruler as she uttered the words.
Mr. Head of Chamber must have been in the process of swallowing saliva, because he made a choking sound, and broke out into a fit of coughs, slapping his chest as he coughed.
For a moment, Ihechi sat there, wondering if he had tuberculosis, or if it was the 100 thousand that had upset his oesophagus so. Thirty seconds later, he was still coughing. And Ihechi, slightly panicking and wondering where the secretary (or whatever the designation of the lady that showed her in was) was, decided to do something. She darted a quick look around; she didn’t see any fridge, neither could she find water anywhere. She thought of going round the table and patting him on his back like her mum used to do when she was a kid, but she thought better of it. Anyone walking into the office and seeing her on the wrong side of the divide would not want to hear that he was choking to death and she was just being helpful.
Then she remembered the bottle of water in her hand bag. She reached for her bag and immediately pulled out a small, half-full bottle of Eva bottled water. She hastily unscrewed the bottle, and handed it to the ailing man.
He took it and gratefully drank the water down. The coughing fit let up more than a bit.
“Sorry, sir,” she said then. “Are you okay?”
“Yes. Thank you very much, my daughter,” he rasped, sipping and finishing the water in the bottle. Then he sat up on his seat, faced her again and said, “So, where were we?”
“Salary,” she replied shortly.
“Ah, yes. We cannot afford to pay that much. Let us start you off with twenty-five thousand, and then, we will increase as the Lord giveth increase,” he said, looking straight at her face.
This man is still speaking in King James Version sef! Abegi! I’m out of here, Ihechi thought. “Okay, sir,” she said out loud, rising from the chair. “I will think about it and get back to you. Have a nice day, sir.”
And she walked out of the office.
Written by The Counsel