A story of intrigues and destiny (Part 2)

Rafat Salami, Abuja

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Now, a chanced meeting is about to change the story of my life.

 

Having secured a place to stay, I found it much easier to connect with fellow job-hunters and gladly Sheraton Hotel was recruiting. This time I was lucky, I got the job.

The interview this time did not require I walked across the room, but the interviewers were seated at the end of a hall, so I was conscious of the steps I was taking, which caused me to stumble and wobble. Those who had better gait and walked with style ended up on the front desk and restaurant while my likes ended up in housekeeping. I was attached to another senior staff with whom we worked the rooms, the lower floors, then the upper floors and suites…

The best job in the universe gave me a very hot meal, I had very hot water for bath and gave me toiletries which were in the bathrooms, the laundry washed my uniforms, so it was just perfect. I usually arrived an hour before my scheduled resumption, so I took my bath in the hotel and a bath is also the last thing I did before leaving the hotel. Since I lived literarily across the road, I took my time. It was only on days off duty that I had problems of feeding and hot bath. How I hated my days off from work. I wished I could work every day because those days I had more hunger pangs, I must take cold baths.

Now, I hope you understand why the job at Sheraton was a life saver.

On one of the days I was off duty, I was locked indoors throughout the day because the owner of the house was around and visiting. The security guard locked me in and took the keys away immediately the man arrived. Then when he took the man on tour of his house, he fiddled with my door and I heard him say he missed the key of the room but will get it. Well, he never did. I was indoors for the whole day as the owner never left the house until about 7pm. I knew because I could hear his laughter from my window, I could hear his conversations, apparently, he entertained a lot of guests that day. Again, I was in detention and this was worse than when I was detained by the FIIB. At least they fed me.

My days off also provided opportunity for me to see my dad and lawyer as well as any other person. It was on one of such visits to my lawyer that I again encountered Mr Oluwole Oke after I had a heated argument with my lawyer and stormed out of his office. Mr Oke asked me what the issue was, and I tried to explain the difficulties I had prosecuting the case, he was heading to Abuja, so he graciously gave me a ride. During the nearly 40 minutes’ drive, we had several conversations all centred around my expulsion and what I was doing next. I had told him I was working in Sheraton, I recalled he disagreed deeply echoing my father’s concern. I assured him, I knew what I was doing but he kept insisting that I should the quit the job. He told me it was wrong for me to work. He said I was too intelligent (I still like hearing that) to be working as a housekeeper, he said I should go back to school and consider this as a setback, but I should rise above it. I asked him how I would do that without money, I asked him how I would sustain myself now that my father believed he had wasted money and had no more resources to spare for me. ‘Well, that job will not pay your way’. He muttered, quite emphatically. I remember I agreed with him but added that it will help me keep my head together. He promised to get me off that job and I laughed as I stepped out of his car, wondering how on earth he was going to do that.

Nothing gave me a warning of what the day will be on a certain day, a very unusual one, when I went to work. While at my job cleaning a room, I was called and told that the head of housekeeping wanted to see me. That was serious.  If it was not serious, the staff would be called only during the break period but not while on duty. When you are called out of your work it meant something serious had happened – usually maybe a guest lost an item in the room or one committed something equally heinous. I did not know what it was and the guy who came for me said he did not know the reason either.  My legs wobbling, I went to see the head of housekeeping, a white woman – I wish I remember her name

As I walked into her office, I saw the reason. Here was Mr. Wole Oke sitting right in front of her. “ What are you doing here? I told you we cannot host visitors.” I screamed at him.  But he was all smiles.  The white woman watched the drama between us, then asked me to pull a seat.  “So, you know him”, she asked. Of course, I know him.   Then my boss asked him to recount why he was in the hotel to see us. He told my boss I was running away from home, hiding and doing injustice to myself. I was stunned beyond words.   Then he turned to me  asked if I had thought of being a journalist. “If you go to NIJ in Lagos, you can within two years become a journalist, then you will have certificate, I will support you”.

I became weak. “I will think about it”, I managed to mutter in between tears. I do not know Lagos, I have never been to Lagos so how will I just go to that city? I was very timid and the stories of Lagos I have heard were scary.  Beyond that, the thought of allowing a man to pay my school fees was obnoxious to me. Then he went a step further. “My sister lives in Ogba, very close to the school so it will be easy for you to commute,” he had offered. I told him I would think about it, just to end the conversation. It was a pretty long conversation but all through I was too shocked and angry to even mutter anything. My boss asked me to take him seriously, said I needed to get back to school that she had found my carriage and attitude to work quite intriguing.  After he left, my boss called me and asked if he was my boyfriend. I chuckled, shaking my head angrily in disagreement. She apologized, but added “you should take him seriously” and nearly every other day; she would counsel me about life and what I needed to do to keep my eye on the goal.

My job at Sheraton was a contract job, renewable every 3 months and shockingly, my name was not among those whose contract was renewed on that day in 1995. With my heart broken to a billion shreds, uncertainty hanging over my head, I went straight to Mr. Wole’s office to give him a piece of my mind. He had no business in my business so now, he must get me a job. That was my attitude when I sat facing him in his office. I think it was a Monday morning.

“Rafa, you need to go back to school and stop hiding behind any phony job. That job will not pay your education and if you continue this way you might never go back to school so do not delay,” he said,

I left his office in anger. He called me back and asked if I had money to take me back to wherever I wanted to go. I did not say anything. My pride was too high. He gave me money, I can’t remember how much but I left a bit relieved.

I walked back from his office in Sokode Crescent in Wuse Zone 7 to Wuse Zone 3, taking breaks, sitting under trees and snacking on the way. There was really nothing to get back to, and I might not have access to the place I called home it was better I loitered on. As I was loitering, somewhere around zone 3 shopping centre, I saw a signboard of a computer training institute, so I walked in to make inquiries. I decided to do a 3-month course in computer training since it was the in thing at that time and everyone kept asking if I had any computer training. There was something like a premium on them. I got a certificate in computer training from MA-IB institute.

By the way, I said I ran away to be alone and to get myself together, right? Well, it did not take long for my fellow expelled students to fish me out. How Kari and the gang did it, I still cannot remember they told me a new school was opening in Abuja, it was a journalism school and they had just enrolled. I rushed in to obtain a form, I enrolled and thanks to the Mr. Bonnie Iwuoha the then President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists we were all given some rebate in the payment of school fees. We were the first set of the IIJ in 1996.

Proudly, I took my admission letter to Mr. Wole whom I had not seen in months to let him know I still oversaw myself and more importantly, to announce to him that I was finally going to study journalism as he asked me to, but there was still a problem. I still needed money. I still needed a job. I told him, I had become computer literate and I could also type as I got a certificate in typing from Victory Typing institute. He then said he would help me get a job. He gave me a note to a law chambers somewhere in zone 5 and asked the person to kindly employ me, he wrote that he should consider me a graduate though I had not graduated and that he would benefit immensely from my skills. I took that note to the chambers but after repeated visits yielding no employment, I went back to Mr. Wole and complained to him that the man did not appear to want to give me a job. He looked at me and said well ‘if I gave you a note to work there and I could recommend you so highly, then I should also be willing to give you a job because I think I will need your services.’

The following day, I started work in his accounting firm where I earned a good pay nearly as much as the graduates in his firm were earning.  I worked only up till 2pm because my class usually began from 2 pm; then I was able to pay some other bills. I worked there until it was time to write our final exams when I had to excuse myself because I need more time to study. After I left his employ, he continued to support me as much as possible, but at some point, my visits to his office began to space out until it stopped.

We lost touch, though I knew he went into politics. We met once on a flight from Abuja to Port Harcourt where we exchanged numbers so occasionally, we would send some celebratory messages to each other.

Our first full conversation after nearly 23 years happened in Bauchi state at the lobby of a hotel we were coincidentally lodged on the 19th of September 2019.  Again, he was saving me and lifting me up. “I have a child with special needs”, I told him.  I am single and raising my children alone, so I needed money to get an MRI for him because he was having seizures. Right there at the lobby of the hotel, before my colleagues with whom I was seated, he set the machinery in motion to get my son the MRI and other attendant care he required. About two weeks after, my son was receiving, care in one of the best medical facilities abroad all thanks to Honourable Busayo Oluwole-Oke.

I have not seen him since we returned from our medical trip. I am apprehensive, and it appears I see him only when I have a problem. As a Muslim, I know Allah plans our moves and all that concerns us. Honourable Busayo Oluwole-Oke always gives me a lifeline, strange but true. May you find your destiny helper too.