I am not at all pleased. I am still struggling to get control of my displeasure as I collect my vehicle tag from the security man at the gateway of the Intercontinental Hotel. The uniformed man waves a hand at his colleague, who lifts the turnpike so that I can drive through. I swerve smoothly across the lush environs of well-pruned shrubs and parked vehicles, looking around for an empty parking spot and thinking about how this isn’t the place I should be.
“How knowledgeable are you of Chief Olumide Thompson?” my boss, the Head Marketing Manager of Meridian Bank, the financial institution where I work, had asked me earlier this morning.
“Well enough,” I’d answered.
Olumide Thompson was one of Meridian’s high value customers. He was extraordinarily wealthy, reputed to have parlayed a small stock market windfall into the immense assets he’d held before he died in an airplane crash eight months ago. He’d often made the pages of both gossipy newsmagazines as well as more serious financial tomes. His name had been linked to some very high-profile ladies from the entertainment world as well as the young women whose families were part of the elite. And then, six years ago, he met and married former glamour model, Anita Nzeribe. Their wedding had been a splashy event of the season, and tongues had wagged endlessly that year over the disparity in their ages; Olumide had been forty-two then, and Anita twenty-eight. With Olumide’s demise, the now thirty-four-year-old socialite is one of Nigeria’s richest women.
However, I didn’t answer my boss’s question with the personal trivia. I stuck with the précis of Chief Thompson’s professional background and business achievements.
He had a small smile on his face by the time I was done. “Good, very good,” he said. “Now, the evaluation of Chief Thompson’s estate is done, and Mrs. Thompson is all set to do with her new-found wealth as she pleases. The thing is, one of the things she pleases is to shut down her accounts with us and move her business elsewhere.”
“My goodness, she can’t do that,” I burst out.
The Head Manager’s smile turned wry. “She can. And she will, unless we can convince her to stay.”
Then he gave me a pointed look that made comprehension dawn on me. “And you want me to go and do the convincing.” My words weren’t a question.
But he answered me nonetheless. “Yes. And use any means possible to ensure that Mrs. Thompson remains our client,” he said with the most deadpan expression I’d ever seen.
And so, here I am, driving through the parking lot of the Intercontinental Hotel, one of Chief Thompson’s establishments, and the place where Mrs. Thompson’s personal assistant, who I spoke with earlier, scheduled as the venue of my meeting with the woman.
“Mrs. Thompson can squeeze you in for thirty minutes by 2pm,” the assistant had said crisply, with an affected accent that I’m still trying to decide if it’s British or American.
Being a mid-level manager at a financial institution comes at a heavy price; you’ll practically be a poster boy for the bank and a bitch to the customers who can do as they like with you. Of course it also has its perks like the car allowance you get, the hefty quarterly bonus and profit sharing. So, I’m going to ignore the fact that at this stage of my career, I’ve been turned into an errand boy, sent to cater to the whim of a spoilt, rich housewife, who didn’t have to work to acquire the wealth she has.
I drive down a long row of cars, still looking for an empty space. Ahead of me, a car pulls out of a spot, and I quickly zip into it. I switch off the motor, take the key from the ignition and get down from the car. I think briefly about calling my wife, just to hear her voice, but I dismiss the thought, knowing that she must be getting ready to go pick our children from school.
I start trekking back to the hotel building, a glittering edifice of glass and marble. The air conditioned atmosphere in the massive hotel lobby is a welcome reprieve from the stifling heat outside. I walk up to the vast reception desk. The receptionist’s smile is a slash of red lipstick and pearly whites.
“Hello, my name is Harrison Akajiaku, and I’m supposed to see Mrs. Anita Thompson,” I say politely, glancing briefly at my wristwatch to note that it is about ten minutes to two.
“One moment please.” The receptionist punches a button on the desk in front of her, and then speaks into it, “There’s a Mister Harrison Akajiaku here to see Mrs. Thompson.”
“Send him upstairs to the penthouse,” replies the familiar crisp, accented voice.
The receptionist depresses the button again, turns to me and gives me quick directions to the elevator that is supposed to take me straight to the penthouse suite. There is a bellhop who mans the elevator, and he accompanies me on the smooth glide upstairs. The doors open directly into the suite, and I step out into what is easily the definition of another world. The room is huge and furnished with an immaculate taste. In my climb up the career ladder, I have hobnobbed with quite an amount of moneyed people, but I have not been anywhere that shrieks elegance and expense in quite the same way as this room.
“Mr. Akajiaku?” I recognise that the British and Americans are still struggling in that accent moments before I see the wispy, well-dressed, young woman walking toward me, her stilettos tapping a quick beat on the parquet floor.
“Yes, I am he,” I respond.
“Of course, you are. Please, have a seat. Mrs. Thompson will be with you in a moment.”
It takes more than a moment before she materializes. I have never seen the woman before, and now that I do, I understand why Chief Thompson had to keep her, not minding the fourteen-year-old age difference between them. Anita Thompson is a sex-pot. As she introduces herself, I note that she has a breathy voice and is one of those women who make even the most casual conversations one long double entendre – so accustomed to using her physical charms that she does not know when to turn them off.
“So, Harrison – can I call you Harrison,” she begins as sits on the sofa beside me, lounging on her right side and crossing her neat legs, “what can I do you for?”
What can I do you for? The words calls up images of skin against skin, passion on sheets, and the woman riding my crotch with moaning, reckless abandon. I blink the images away and refocus on the meeting.
“Yes, well, it’s about the finances that your husband has in our custody –”
“My husband is dead, Harrison. Those finances now belong to me,” she says with just a touch of ice. “Speaking of, I have been asking my account officer, Tunde Adeyemo, to hurry up with the closure of my accounts with Meridian. He’s been delaying. I want to know why.”
“My apologies, Mrs. Thompson –”
“Please, call me Anita.”
“Very well, Anita. I apologize for the inconvenience of the delay. But we want to keep your business. And my manager has sent me here to negotiate any agreement that’ll keep you happy with us.”
She arches a well-plucked brow. “I want to move my company’s cash to a different bank, Harrison. They have a better offering.”
A better offering… Against my will, the words bring to life in my mind a picture of me standing before her in my full naked glory. I blink that away at once. “Missis – sorry, Anita, we’ve been working with your husband for nearly fifteen years, and have provided stellar service for him. And we have had hopes of transitioning that service to you. You pulling your business now before we’ve had the chance to prove ourselves to you…” I shake my head. “I mean – did we do anything wrong? What is this other bank offering you? Maybe we can do better.”
“I saw your end of year report last year,” she replies. “Your bank closed at two percent loss. I hear it had something to do with investors cashing their money.”
For a moment, I am startled by the incongruity of the words coming out of this woman’s mouth. I don’t know what I expected before this meeting, but when I saw Anita Thompson moments ago, I hadn’t expected her to know these things. She has apparently been prepped well for this meeting.
“I’m not going to lie,” I say, “it contributed to it. But we are dedicated to serve and meet our customers’ needs. What can we do to make this work?”
“I also heard that Meridian, which was once known to be the leading corporate bank, is now diversifying into retail banking. Is that part of the plan to gain traction again? If I’m going to leave my money with you, I have to be sure there are plans put in place to protect customers’ interests in case of future uncertainties.”
I gape at her a millisecond, before replying, “Yes, Anita, the diversifying is part of the plan. If you check the records well, our bank also has the lowest risk factor in the country. We have the lowest percentage of bad loans.”
“Okay then,” she accedes, before continuing, “but first, I have a few demands. First, I want a fixed interest on all our accounts. Meridian has been ripping my husband off by using flexible interest rates, which allowed you to change it anytime you want, depending on the market, without any warning. I also want a two percent charge decrease on our dollar account for paying expatriates. And lastly, my company is about to win a multimillion deal, and I want your bank to broker it. You’ll get a five percent of the money if the deal goes through.”
“I think you can do better than a five percent, Anita,” I intone. “Why don’t we make it a round number, let’s say, ten percent?”
“I can do six, but that’s cutting through our profit,” she counters.
“Make it eight percent, and I can get you a twelve percent interest rate if you fix the money with us for the next six months,” I reply.
“Ok, but first, I need some funds before the end of the week, and I want this contract to be drawn on paper which I will present to the board of directors for review before the end of the week.”
I begin smiling. “No problem, Anita. It’ll be done.” Nicely done, Harrison, I congratulate myself inwardly.
“One other thing,” Anita interjects.
I lift my brows in encouragement, still smiling. “What is it?”
“Your manager says to negotiate anything that will make me happy, right?”
A wary expression begins inching its way across my face as I eye her. “Yes, yes, he did.”
“Well, Harrison…” she says, sitting up and moving forward on the seat, closer to me, the motion causing her skirt to ride up her thighs.
My heart begins to beat faster as she draws closer. And then, she places a hand on my thigh, centimeters away from my groin area – a touch I instantly become so aware of that I almost didn’t hear her over the pounding of my heart.
“This, Harrison,” she says in that breathy voice of hers, her hand on my thigh leaving no doubt what ‘this’ is, “will make me very happy.”
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