The moment he stepped into room 415 and saw Jennifer Lennox sitting behind the polished mahogany table, Wale Ademola knew he was a dead man. He shut the glass panelled door behind him with a click and glared. It had to be an illusion. He checked again. Nope. This was for real. She was here. What on earth was his ex-wife doing in his office?
“Good morning Wale.” The woman sitting next to Jennifer spoke first. Her name was Coleen something from HR. She’d interviewed him only last year, at the start of his job as a temp administrator. She peered at him. “Is something wrong?
He started to come forward, stumbled and bumped into a stationery cupboard. “Sorry. I… I must have the wrong room. I am here for a promotion interview for the trainee project manager position.” It had to be the wrong room.
Coleen waved a piece of paper at him. “You didn’t get the confirmation email?”
He nodded. His mind swirled with questions and he tried his best to look relaxed. Had Jennifer traced him to London? Or was this a nightmare?
Coleen gave a reassuring smile. “It will be over before you know it.”
My life will be over before you know it. “Uh-huh.”
Jennifer gave nothing away with her expression, and when she glanced at him it was like she was looking right through him. As though he wasn’t even there. She shifted in her seat and the aqueous floral scent of her perfume smacked his nostrils. He coughed, spluttered. He’d given her the fragrance for her twenty- eighth birthday last year... a day before he – should he say left her? He dropped his gaze to the table.
“You look a tad bit uncomfortable,” Coleen said, concern brimming on the edge of her voice. “Take a seat.” She gestured at the only vacant chair in the room.
In front of Jennifer? God forbid bad thing. He sagged into the chair like an invalid. “Thank you.”
Beads of perspiration beneath his armpits prickled. Trouble had landed in his backyard. Jealous enemies from his village in Nigeria had chosen the best time to strike their juju, African black magic. Wale mentally sent a curse in return. Thunder fire them all. Including Jennifer Lennox.
Jennifer tossed a stray lock of curled blond hair away from her face and held out her hand. Obviously, his curse did not work. “Mister Ademola,” she said. “An absolute pleasure to meet you.”
Mister? Her performance deserved a standing ovation. He sat up straight with a tight grin, convinced his expression must look like one on a mug shot. “Same here.” His hands remained on the table, numb. If Jennifer noticed, she didn’t react. She turned to Coleen. “Ready when you are.”
“We almost cancelled the interview when Maryann called in sick.” Coleen gave Jennifer a grateful nod. “Thank your stars that Andrea came in on a short notice. She will lead the interview.”
Andrea? A chill spread across his body. Jennifer changed her name? He swallowed. “T-that’s fine.”
Jennifer pointed to the jug on the table. “Water?”
Her nails were perfectly manicured, as always, metallic blue with silver sparkles.
Rat poison would be perfect. “No. No thanks.”
She sipped water from her glass. “I will allow you a few minutes to get your self together.”
Wale squinted at the window. Determined rays from the sun streamed into the room even though it was barely ten. Somewhere down below, a car tire scrunched against the asphalt. The engine of a bus shuddered to a stop and the doors hissed open. Stall owners’ voices were faint in the distance as they paraded sun hats and ice-lollies. A perfect summer day. Why hadn’t he called in sick? Cancelled the interview?
“Did you bring your identification documents?” Coleen asked.
He snapped his head up. “Documents?”
“Yes. I included the list of acceptable documentation in the email.” She looked a bit irritated. “Your passport?”
Crap. He’d been hoping she’d forget. “Do you have to see it now?”
Coleen’s apologetic smile had a life span of about a nanosecond. “Immigration rules.”
“Uh, of course.” Wale shoved a reluctant hand into his breast pocket. He fished out a passport that had once been vibrantly green and shook it lightly. The frayed edges coughed out a small cloud of thick, black powder.
He forced a smile. “I dropped it in a pile of soot on my way here.” Yeah right. More like good luck charm from Nigeria to distract immigration officers at Heathrow from staring too hard at the passport. They were usually wary of visitors like him coming into the UK: Immigrants with no prospects of ever returning to their country of origin. The charm had worked. Despite the filth, they hadn’t asked a question when he’d presented it. He placed the document into Coleen’s open hand. “Here you go.”
“You are a Nigerian citizen?” Coleen asked. She blew away some more of the black powder and flipped to the middle page. She studied the page for a long moment. Wale kept his focus on the space behind her head. To the right was an old Xerox photocopier churning out documents with an industrious hum. He stared at the papers as they floated unto the receiving tray, counting in sync with slow eye movements.
“Your UK residence permit is a temporary one? Expires in eight months?” Coleen’s eyebrows rose in a probing arc. “This is a permanent position.”
Wale swallowed, wiped his palms on his thigh. “I will be entitled to a permanent residency real soon.”
Jennifer suddenly perked up, fluffed the ruffles of the stripped orange shirt underneath her suit. “You certainly will. Won’t you?” Her Irish accent was more pronounced than usual. As it often was when she wanted to be sarcastic.
He stared pointedly at Coleen. “Syms & Syms offers work permits to foreign workers right? I was thinking of-”
“We don’t.” Coleen cut in with a frown. “Not anymore. We exceeded our quota for work permits last week. Are you expecting to get a work permit from us?”
Last week? Talk about bad luck. “No I am not. I was just asking for information purposes. My, uh, wife is a British citizen.” Stupid answer.
“If you are sure...I guess we can proceed.” Coleen looked at him as though she did not entirely believe him.
“Hundred percent.” Wale nodded vigorously. “You have nothing to worry about.”
Jennifer’s cold, cerulean eyes pierced Coleen with a look. “The applicant is an illegal immigrant, and the interview will continue?” She gave half a chuckle. “Is that how Syms & Syms works?”
Her words stabbed his gut. Illegal Immigrant.
Coleen’s eyes flicked between them as if to question Jennifer’s sudden coldness. “Andrea, until Wale’s visa runs out, he cannot be considered an illegal immigrant and will be treated fairly. Trust me, when his visa expires, we will know. And we will deal with it then.” She slid the passport across the table. Wale failed to catch it and the document smacked against the ceramic floor and landed by his feet.
Coleen continued. “Let’s get on with the interview?”
Jennifer spread her arms out as if to say “whatever.”
The veins in Wale’s head throbbed. Why didn’t he hit the delete key when the cursed job advert landed in his inbox? Because he was an over ambitious idiot with a bank account the size of a dried pimple, that’s why.
Coleen looked at him, an expectant expression on her face. “Well?”
He sighed with weariness, feeling as though he was about to be strapped to an electric chair for a crime he did not commit. Finally he nodded. “I am ready.”
***“Africa!” Wale’s colleague called out as soon as he returned to the main office floor of Syms & Syms, the IT project management consulting firm that employed him. Wale groaned as Q stumbled through scurrying assistants and ringing phones towards the cubicle they shared. Q’s real name was Quaddam, but everyone called him Q. They had been working in the same department- Admin and Supplies- since Wale started at the company. Unlike Wale, Q loved the brain- deadening post office runs, monotonous stationary upkeep and general servitude to the entire company that had been their duties for a little over a year. The position gave Q an opportunity to be the first to hear office gossip while it was still sizzling. On the bright side, Q’s enthusiasm usually made Wale’s days slightly shorter and more bearable. But not today.
“Get lost Q,” Wale muttered. “And stop calling me Africa.”
Q gripped a bunch of manila files under his arm as though his life depended on it. “Not until I finish my investigation.” He wheeled a spare chair close and slammed his files on top of Wale’s desk, unsettling the dust around the pen holders.
“What is it?” Wale asked. He reached for a copy of the IT News magazine on his desk, and hoped that Q would take a hint and get lost.
“Andrea Lennox interviewed you,” Q said, hardly noticing his lack of enthusiasm.
“She left a massive IT firm in Manchester to help shape things up here for a few months.”
“Why travel all the way from Manchester to London? Syms & Syms has never been in the Times top hundred IT companies to work for.” Q let out a chuckle. “Or top five thousand.”
“Your point is?”
“My point is why?”
Wale returned to the magazine and fingered it; moving his hands across the images at a snail’s pace. ”I don’t know. Leave me alone.”
Q nodded but didn’t shift from his position. ”I see the interview didn’t go well?”
“It was a blast.” Wale replied in perfect monotone. “Go away.”
“Feisty.” Q wiggled his index finger. “Don’t worry, Wale. You’ll get the job you have always wanted. Then you will get promoted and leave me here all by myself.”
Wale placed his palm on his chest and feigned distress. “I’m heartbroken.”
“Okay.” Q sat bolt upright. “One more question and I am gone.”
“Are you and Andrea related in any way, shape or form?” Q’s beady eyes shone with curiosity.
Adrenaline propelled Wale out of his seat. “Me and Jen-Andrea related? Why would you think that?”
“Just answer me.”
“Why do you Africans answer questions with questions?”
“Are you going to talk or not?”
“See what I mean?”
Wale took a deep breath. “This is not the time to muck about.”
Q tapped his chin and stared at the ceiling as though his answer was engrained in the perforated tiles. Finally, he lowered his head and said, “I just ordered an ID card for the new project manager.”
“In her passport, her surname is hyphenated.”
Wale’s heart thumped. “What has that got to do with the price of fish?”
“Wait till I tell you,” Q said and then paused.
“I am waiting.”
“The first half of her name is the same as yours.”
“Her full name is Andrea Ademola- Lennox.”
The room whirled. Wale closed his eyes. “No. No way.”
“Yep,” Q said. “I saw it myself. Now what was that about the price of fish?”
***Thanks for reading.
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