‘I’m sorry to inform you that your services are no longer required in this company.’
Shade dropped to her knees like a bag of wet sand, tears already gathering in her eyes. The announcement from the Human Resources Manager brought her whole world to a standstill as she had just returned from maternity leave and wasn’t aware that the company had started downsizing while she was away.
‘Did I do anything wrong? Please tell me. Let me know what it is so I can apologize or something.’
‘Ah, madam, please don’t embarrass me this way. Stand up and have your seat,’ Theresa, the HRM said firmly. She complied.
‘Truth is, the company is going through dire times and downsizing is the only option for now. You’re not the only one affected, but the good thing is that you’ll be paid your two months’ salary in lieu of notice to cushion the blow. Your account will be credited in a fortnight. Meanwhile, here, take this,’ she finished, holding out the termination letter.
Shade’s hand shook as she collected the letter. With a loud sigh, she turned and made her way out of the office, her shoulders drooping with the burden of the news she’d just heard. Her feet dragged on the terrazzo floor as she walked out.
Theresa watched her go, her eyes softening with sympathy. When the door closed behind the departing defeated figure, she leaned back in her seat, closed her eyes and exhaled. This was the part she hated most about her job; being the one to deliver the bad news to other employees and seeing the hopeless look in their eyes as the bottom dropped out of their world.
‘Shade, wait, are you affected too?’
Shade slowed down enough to allow her friend, Abidemi, catch up with her.
‘Yes,’ she said resignedly. ‘I just got my letter.’
‘You too? Kai! Where do I start from, ehn? How do I repay all the people I owe? How will I care for my kids alone, as their father has chosen to be unfortunate? Who will provide for my aged mother who depends on me for everything? Am I not finished?’
She burst into tears.
‘Take it easy,’ Shade sympathized. ‘It’s not the end of the world my sister. If I tell you my own story, I swear, you’ll pity me. Yes, my husband is around unlike yours, but he has been jobless for over a year now and contributes nothing to our upkeep. We all depended on my salary. Imagine, three children and two adults on that meager sum was a struggle. Now the meager is even gone. I don’t know how I will tell them the sad news when I get home.’
They both fell silent.
‘So where are you going now?’ Abidemi asked.
‘Home,’ Shade replied. ‘Where else can I go? First, though, I’ll go and pick my baby from the crèche.’
‘Okay. May God help us. I’ll surely pay you a visit soon.’
‘Amen. Okay, I’ll be expecting you. Extend my regards to your entire family.’
The two women hugged each other warmly before going their separate ways.
‘Madam, your money abeg.’
The conductor’s sharp request jolted Shade out of her reverie.
‘Sorry,’ she mumbled as she reached for her bag, opened it, paid her fare and collected her balance. In another ten minutes, she alighted at her bus-stop and began the short trek homewards. She hadn’t gone more than a few meters when her phone rang and she picked it up.
It was her husband, and he was calling from the hospital. Their first child, Bolarinwa, had been involved in an accident on her way home from school and she was to meet him there as quickly as possible.
Her head spun.
‘Fate must really be out to get us,’ she thought to herself. ‘How come it’s today that I lost my job that my daughter gets hit by a car? Who exactly did I offend?’
With no one to provide an answer, she immediately turned around and headed back towards the bus stop at a run.
‘How is she? Tell me she is alright.’
Her husband’s face looked grim as he tried to calm her fears.
‘The doctor says she has lost a lot of blood and needs surgery, but we have to pay a deposit sum of two hundred and fifty thousand naira before they can go any further. What they’ve administered to her is just first aid.’
‘Jesus,’ she exclaimed as they walked into the hospital building. ‘What do we do? Where are we going to raise that kind of money?’
Her husband stopped and held her hand.
‘It’s a lot. You and I know there’s no way we can afford to pay that amount of money at this point in time, so for lack of options … I called daddy.’
‘Niyi! You called who?’ Shade asked. Her eyes were wide with shock.
‘My father. I was desperate,’ was his tame response.
Chief Kasumu Bankole, Shade’s father in law was a wealthy man, but he had vowed not to have anything to do with them because of his son’s decision to marry a nameless upstart like her instead of his millionaire friend’s daughter. Father and son had not exchanged a word in almost seven years, although Shade had always believed that if his wife, Niyi’s mother, had been alive, things would not have degenerated to that extent. Unfortunately, the woman had died of cervical Cancer whilst he was still a teenager so there was nobody to placate the two warring egos.
‘But you know what his response will be, Niyi. You know he will never help. Why did you even bother? You shouldn’t have. We should look elsewhere.’
‘Well, like I said, I was desperate. Our daughter needs urgent treatment and we don’t have a thousand naira to our name as we speak. What other options did I have? As for him not helping out, I don’t know how you’d react to this, but he actually agreed to do so.’
‘He agreed to help. I don’t know why, but he did. In fact, he said you should come over to his place to pick up the cash as soon as possible.’
Shade’s heart froze.
Two months after her husband lost his job, she had gone cap in hand to her father in law for assistance without his knowledge. She had been shocked beyond words when Chief demanded to have sex with her before he could help out. She could still picture his deadpan face as he brazenly told her ‘nothing goes for nothing’ in Lagos’. She hadn’t told her husband because she knew he would have been mad at her and would probably have gone ahead to do something rash. Now the same man wanted her to come to his house to collect money. She knew in her mind that could only mean one thing.
‘He wants…he wants me to come and pick up a quarter of a million naira in cash? Why doesn’t he make a transfer? That would be safer, don’t you think?’
‘I said the same thing. His response was that he has issues with his internet banking. I even volunteered to come for the money instead of you, but he said no. According to him, he hasn’t forgiven me for my disobedience yet. This gesture of his is just because of his grand-daughter.
‘But I can’t go. I can’t…’
‘You can’t what?’ He cut in aggressively. ‘Even with your daughter’s life at stake? Do you think it was easy for me to swallow my pride and go crawling to him? Or is there another reason for your reticence other than pride?’
It was perhaps fitting that the doctor chose that particular moment to interrupt them.
‘Mister Bankole, have you made the deposit yet? Time is not our friend and if we don’t do something soon it may be too late.’
‘Hear that?’ Niyi asked, turning to his wife. ‘Is that enough reason for you?’
The pleading look in his eyes was too much for her to bear.
‘I’ll be as quick as I can,’ she said in a whisper.
‘God,’ she thought, as she hurried towards the hospital gate. ‘What kind of dilemma is this?’
If you are Shade, what will you do?