My work in Ogun had been good— accommodations were okay, pay was good, treatment was fine, but it had been a work that required a lot of physical strength and moving around. And so when I had gotten a call from Freda, my work contact, I had gladly accepted the work as an Administrator/Translator in Haozin Aluminium Company.
“Zäo a, (Good morning),” I waved at a Chinese man. I scoffed when he looked at me without even acknowledging my greeting. This morning and already smoking, I shook my head in wonder. I really should stop greeting these people, I thought to myself.
The administrative building was a big building, with glass doors leading to a wide, white-tiled reception area. It was like one of those grand offices abroad had been uprooted and then placed in a remote village in Benin. The first day I arrived here, I had been awed by the plain but elegant style of the building. The level of expertise seen in the thick glass door panels, the map of the world carved out in a light gold shade and had the bold word—Haozin Aluminium written in Chinese calligraphy on the white wall, the artificial planted-pots, an exotic breed I guessed, the expensive leather chairs lining the reception hall making it look like the living room of wealthy business men, spiked my anxiety levels. I was more used to working in ordinary buildings with the typical low-cost offices, even the hotels I had stayed in were not this beautiful. I wondered what sort of work I would be assigned to. This sort of place required a level of professionalism that even with my translating abilities, I could not measure up with. And it didn’t help the fact that my employer was a woman who seemed to have an odd temper, who demanded the highest level of professionalism. I had taken to wearing formal clothes with tiny heeled shoes at work—even if I wasn’t a professional, I could at least,look like one- was my thinking.
“Good morning,” I smiled brightly at the cleaners.
“Ah, Aunty translator, good morning,” a round lady with tribal marks on her cheeks greeted, pausing her mopping, “You sleep well?”
“Noo, cold wan finish me for that room,” I said posing for a selfie. “Abeg, come snap me.” I handed the phone to her. “No snap that type wey you snap the other day oo, make it fine.”
This area had become my photo studio. The first time I posted a picture that I snapped in the company, one of my aunties as well as some of my friends had asked if I was already in China. I had been tempted to lie and say that I was in China, but the chances of meeting one of my cousins as I had done in Kogi was very high. What face would I have if I said I was in China and then had to explain why I was still working in a small village in Benin?
I posed for some pictures as the cleaner, Mercy took shots. She didn’t have an Android phone, but after I had taught her a few tricks, she had easily caught on. She now snapped like a Pro, and I felt proud of myself for being such an awesome teacher (I was also an excellent photographer).
My boss, a petite and thin-boned woman entered the building, “Good morning,” she responded to the greetings thrown at her. The ‘D’ was silent, making it seem as though she said, “goo’morin”. I greeted her in Chinese and asked her how she slept. I was surprised when she answered with, “hai hao(it was okay)”. She didn’t like to say much, and she seemed not to like the excessive greetings that Nigerians enjoyed. I myself have gotten used to it.
She unlocked the office and I followed her inside, going through the daily motions of opening windows, putting on the AC, booting the computer and of course switching on the Wi-Fi Router. She went out of the office to give the cleaners room to do their work. I filled the electric kettle and plugged it into the socket. And then proceeded to post my pictures on Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. This was my daily routine every morning. And then by 8:30am, work would start proper.
My work was basically office work—print out this document, take this file to the finance office, photocopy this into three copies, paste this notice on the notice boards around the company, translate this file to English and take it to the Nigerian secretary. I was the “Xiao Heiren (small black person—literal meaning, a name used to refer to a black person) to send to buy drinks or to send all the way to the water pump house to look for a worker or another Chinese person. I was basically the errand person for the Admin building. And being the admin building, it was responsible for overseeing the whole company, and so that was where most of the paperwork in the company were carried out. My only consolation was that I had my own air conditioned space and available Wi-Fi that allowed me to download numerous videos on YouTube.
“Xiao Feng, go to the gate and call the Head of security for me,” my boss, poked her head out of her office and called out to me. Unlike most of my classmates whose Chinese names had been given by our teachers, I had chosen my name ‘Mei Feng’ by myself. It meant ‘beautiful wind’. Chinese was a beautiful language, and for once I had the rare opportunity to give myself a name, why not take advantage of it and give myself a beautiful name.
“Hao de,” I muttered and stood up from my seat at the reception table and went out of the building into the harsh morning sun. I made sure to go with my phone to avoid stories that touch the heart. I had been told stories of workers, including the Chinese themselves who had had their phones stolen because they had left it lying around carelessly. I didn’t want to become the next sorry tale.
I went to the gate, looking at my phone and laughing at the comments about the photos I posted.
“Fine girl,” I pretended as though I didn’t hear. ‘Not again,’ I thought. It was Martin, one of my many admirers in the company. The first day I had arrived, he had been friendly and nice, offering to help me carry my bags and show me around the small community. I had appreciated his attention the first day as I didn’t know anyone and was new to the area. But the attention became unbearable after the second day. I regretted giving him my number. He would call in the morning to ask me if I slept well, and would call in the afternoon and in the evening. Once, he had called in the night, when I had already entered my dreamland. Sometimes, I felt that he set an alarm on his phone to call me, the calls were coincidentally the same time—7:30 in the morning, 1pm in the afternoon and 7pm in the evening. I loved attention, but this sort of attention freaked me out. I had blocked two of his numbers, and taken to going another way when I saw him. “Dis kin wahala, dis babe no fit handle,” I muttered. I increased my pace to banish any thought of following me from his head.
The security office by the gate was as usual lively with another drama—this time a middle aged man was being questioned. It seemed that he had entered the premises without permission. I pitied the man, his round stomach identified him as a family man. I wondered if any of his family members were sick or if his children had eaten this morning. I felt a pang of sadness for him, wishing I could stop the security with his dark, and serious-looking face from talking to a grown man that way, as though he were a five-year old child. But I decided to hold my peace, the security officers were one set of people I wanted no dealing with in this place.
I ignored the greetings from those who were standing there—if they could stand there and watch a man being verbally abused, then they did not deserve my response, I childishly thought, even though I knew that they like me, were afraid of being the next target of the raging security man.
“Where is the COS?” I asked one of them.
“COS, translator dey find you. E be like Big madam don dey look for you again o,” a tall and very huge man said. He must be new, I thought, I haven’t seen him before.
“Translator, how far na?” the COS (Chief Of Security), as he was called walked out from another room. He was a small man with broad shoulders, I always assumed that the COS would be a bulky man with hard muscles and face carved in a hard set, but I had been surprised when I had been directed to a short man with “Smiley face”, he looked like one of the forever smiling emoticons on WhatsApp. But when he got angry, it was a sight that I couldn’t get out of my head. He had seemed like a vibrating body mass that shook as though it would soon open up and start spewing red hot flames. He rarely got angry, but when he did, everyone was careful to stay out of his way, otherwise you would become the center of his anger.
“My boss asked me to call you,” I said, coming here had begun to influence my English. I was trying to limit the time I spoke in pidgin.
“Why na? Wetin happen this time around?”
“I don’t know. I just saw one of those Chinese men from the Packaging department go into her office. Maybe one of their workers is giving them tough time again,” I shrugged. Of course, it had to be them. That particular Chinese man with his head that was too round had come to the office yesterday and the day before, and it was always to complain about his workers. The first time they had refused to work overtime insisting that they increase their pay, and the second time, the round-headed Chinese man had insisted that since their pay was to be increased, they wouldn’t be allowed to go for the usual two hours break, and they had all resigned in an organized manner that made me happy. To see workers with cooperation, it was rare in this community where everyone had their own problems and couldn’t care less about the other person. I wonder what it was this time around, maybe they had refused to work past 7pm.
And it turned out that my guess was right…