Gentleman’s guide to Dinner Etiquette “A gentleman is one who puts more into the world
Chapter Two -“The Long Road”
The big moment.
In 2010, when Benjamin started out his career in journalism, fresh from school and eager to secure a good paying job at his favourite and most popular celebrity magazine Glitterati, in Abuja -the Nigerian seat of power, he had thronged the streets of Asokoro, Wuse and Garki for many weeks on end hoping to work as a freelance journalist at the least, if he couldn’t secure a good paying job.
He had a life long dream of publishing a thrilling story about love and betrayal, a theme he was convinced would be a bestseller. And he was hoping to learn the ropes from a well-established publishing outfit as soon as he could secure one.
Benjamin grew up in Lagos, a city bursting at the seams with a population of over 20million residents. The Lagos cityscape is unapologetically urban. Unlike the new capital in Abuja, Lagos is a city initially well-planned to serve as the cynosure of West Africa, with skyscrapers attesting to the strength of its trade and bustling economy.
Monoliths of concrete, justling out into the skies competing for heights in patterns similar to the west, adorn the Lagos skyscape lending credence to its urbanization and political valor.
Having shed the vestiges of imperialism five decades ago, the city had completely lost its direction and its growth, stunted, with roads looping and weaving with less organisation than a natural river. Every year housing estates sprout out like young plants without a plan amidst inadequate infrastructure to support its integration into the larger city. So was the chaotic growth of this sprawling city.
In razor sharp contrast and amidst the grandeur of the city, lay swaths of squalor settlements in every other conceivable space. Growing up in the city could easily mean watching the neon lights from the fringes of Lagos where filth competed with clean air.
Here in the suburbs, everyone is scared of having nothing.
The rich hoard their money to preserve not only themselves but their descendants. The middle classes aspire to be rich, either hoarding or spending money they don’t have in order to maintain the appearance of wealth. While the poor live for each day hustling and bustling to tie the two ends of the survival rope under the chronic stress of never having enough.
Benjamin really didn’t grow up in the nest of opulence, his father was a factory worker in the industrial district of Oregun, whose pastime was changing jobs every other month as his temperament was legendary.
His temper was a slowly filling glass. There was no problem, no outward sign of fury until the liquid reached the top, then all bets were off. He changed jobs like diapers of a week-old baby. He had a reputation for doing a fine job, but his albatross was his short fuse and lack of respect for constituted authorities.
This meant that the family relied most time on his mother, Agnes, who was an astute trader. She was a true business woman who travelled around the country trading in farm produce. Agnes had the gracefulness of a model, tall and lanky with a beautiful shape to die for.
Agnes wasn’t beautiful in the orthodox way, no fluttering eyelids or sexy lips, no sonorous voice or long fingernails, but in her ordinariness she was stunning. Burnt melanin never looked so beautiful and flawless on a woman. She was truly African and like many of her kin, her features oozed of the richness of a full lips, brown eyes, dark hair and high cheekbones.
She led a retinue of traders who banded together to keep the market of staple foods in Oyingbo flooded with fresh produce from the green farms upcountry. Perhaps it was her height or her husky voice, without doing much she commanded respect from every trader in the market.
She was also a great mother and housekeeper. She had boundless energy and desired nothing more than giving her three boys the same opportunities available to the middle class children in the adjoining neighborhood. It was a struggle to raise money for school tuition for the kids, especially with their father spending half the year on the threadbare couch in their two-room boys’ quarters.
She had to join groups of monthly collaborators to raise lump sums of money for her children. Many times, the money arrived later than the school resumption dates and the kids would have to spend school days helping her at the market during this time.
Ben was her favorite child, always willing to lend a helping hand and was a great companion in the market. He was a good negotiator and much better than his siblings with the figures. Not once did he miscount sales money or shortchanged the customers.
She called him Ben, as Benjamin was a mouthful, especially when she finds herself screaming his name through the throng of bodies in the market to get his attention. He was sometimes a handful, prefering to hang around kids Agnes feared would toughen him up in the ways of the street.
Lagos was a mean place to raise a child if you lived in the suburbs. Each child would have to fend for his destiny she always thought.
There was something about Ben that drew people to him. Ofcourse, it didn’t hurt that he was a good looking boy with a half moon smile; but it was more than that. He was quiet and naturally calm, but not out of painful shyness. It was a reservedness, like a conscious choice to observe situations before he got involved. This would later become an incredible skill in his chosen career.
Yet he wasn’t stand-offish, he remained friendly faced and welcoming in body posture and was one child with a hearty laugh. Ben missed two years of school and therefore finished secondary school older than his classmates. Those two years he spent working as an apprentice with a fashion designer, shoe maker and a curtain trader at the Yaba market. This didn’t deter him as he secured admission into the university almost immediately for his first degree.
His journey through the university was laced with multilateral learning. He survived armed with the vocational skills he had learnt while out of school years earlier. He made and sold leather sandals, sold draperies, helped other students paint their rooms for a fee and made bespoke shirts in his spare time and sold scores of his most popular design during his four year stint at the university. His personality played a big role in his initial success in business through the sale of his merchandise coupled with the natural business acumen he had inadvertently inherited from his mother.
The moment he waltzed through the school emblem off the busy highway, he never looked back. Aside occasional phone calls to his mother and his siblings, he was nothing but a native of the campus.
He stayed behind during the holidays running errands for his Professors and helping with tutorials for freshmen who paid a token to stay ahead of the class. At other times, he worked at a piggery outside the campus cleaning dirty pens and earning a fair wage while at it.
It was an incredibly hard life. He had no time for leisure activities and barely even had a girlfriend. But he made it through school on his own and he wanted more than anything to work in a respectable firm to practise his new academic skills. He was curious to see how with less effort he could earn a decent pay and perhaps much more money than he did using the dexterity of his vocational skills.
He had suffered too much, enduring all sorts of insults and name calling, all in a bid to break free from the circumstances of his birth. He had watched too often the glam of middle and upper class living in Lagos and convinced himself that it was only a matter of time before he joined the elite club.
He had moved to Abuja after his one year compulsory National Youth Service, in the neighbouring state of Kogi – a couple of hours away. When he heard of opportunities that lay awash for youngsters like him in the city and he was convinced his future lay somewhere in the new city and there was no harm trying out his luck.
With a few thousand naira to his name he took the long ride to Abuja accompanied by his friend, Deen-whom he had grown fond of during the service year.
Deen had an uncle who was willing to accommodate both of them in his 3-bedroom apartment on the outskirt of Abuja, on the condition that they helped him with his sugar business during the weekend. Deen would handle the account books and Ben would manage the customers sales and delivery while his barely-literate uncle traveled to Kano to replenish his stock.
It sounded like a fair deal and their journey to Abuja was more purposeful than they had imagined.
His search for a job in Abuja was fruitless for the first couple of months and he resigned to the weekend arrangement with Deen’s uncle for many months. They practically worked for free, afterall, they were not paying rent whilst sleeping in the living room with cockroaches and rats playing “hide and seek” on the tiled floor of the house.
When Ben finally got the chance for an interview at a rival publishing firm, it was undeniable that he had the sterling qualities that Mr. George, the publisher and Owner of the UrbanCity Magazine, always wanted in his writers. They were also the ones he admired and prided himself in; intelligence, courage, discretion and common sense.
The interview was quite intense and the conversation was curt and yet engaging. His questions fired in quick succession in an attempt to see what’s under the veneer of Ben’s persona. Silence settled like a blanket in between Ben’s answers and the relentless scribbling of notes in his pad, until it was punctuated by yet another question.
Ben observed the well manicured fingers of his interviewer as he wrote and couldn’t help but notice his attention to detail. His mildly starched shirt clung to his body like it would on a mannequin, almost glazed and undisturbed, while his well-polished black oxford lace-up shoe peeked out of his desk like a rat waiting for an all clear to dash through the tiled floor of his office.
Here was a man who cared a lot about his looks.
Ben also had enough time to look keenly at the interview room. It was tasteful in a corporate way – nothing interesting enough to cause offence no matter what a person’s preferences might be. It was Mr. George’s office, it had a dozen award plaques neatly arranged on mahogany shelves at one corner of the office and large prints of several front pages of the UrbanCity Magazine adorning the wall opposite his desk.
As though a constant reminder of the insane drive to fight off competition and to remain amongst the best in the industry.
32inch television hung on the wall to his left, completing a kaleidoscope of views whichever way you turn.
You could sense the finesse and personality of the occupant of the office from a cursory glance at the office. Despite the well decorated walls, there was nothing cluttered about the arrangement. Everything just in its rightful place.
Mr. George’s voice jolted him back to reality with a frown suggesting that the wandering of his eyes didn’t meet his approval. With a flush of embarrassment, Ben sat upright with his back straight and braced up for the next question.
It had been almost 25minutes since the interview session started and it looked like the session was nowhere near its end.
“How soon can you start work?”
That was it! The big moment. He couldn’t hide the excitement as he just landed his first job in paid employment. He flashed a smile when he replied that he was ready to start immediately.
Something in Mr. George’s expressionless face assured him that they were going to be really good friends.
Friends that transcends the toughest times.
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