The first time I had worked as translator in a construction company in Akwa-Ibom, there had been this fear that plagued me, that the Chinese Language I knew was not enough to make me a proper translator. Most times, I wondered if my employers were just humoring me by pretending they could understand me, even though they couldn’t. My friend had told me that my Chinese was okay, that I spoke like someone who had already been to China, but it didn’t do much to reassure me.
It was that same fear that followed me into my boss’ office with the short COS. As usual, it was the Chinese man from the Packaging Department. I smiled at him, and he gave me a wide smile. Knowing how to speak Chinese, could raise your points when it came to Chinese people. And so, it was easy for me as a translator to enjoy some privileges that other Nigerian workers could not afford.
I relayed the instructions of my boss to the COS. It was the same thing she had said yesterday and the day before.
“Ensure that all the workers are at their posts at the appropriate time. They should not play with their phones during work time. They are not allowed to eat or go out to buy food during working hours. They should not chat with each other while working. Proper safety measures should be taken…” I repeated as she droned.
I stifle a giggle when I saw the COS moving his hands behind him as though he was a choirmaster. He winked at me when he noticed, and I almost burst out in a loud laugh.
“This your madam ehh, she get plenty wahala o,” he said as we left the office.
“I’m telling you. Its like she doesn’t get tired of listing all these rules. Even that other Chinese man was looking as though he would soon fall asleep,” I muttered.
“Make she no hear you,” he looked at me with a knowing smile.
“Shey na only ‘come’ and ‘good morning’ she dey hear? At this pace, before she learns good afternoon, it will take five months,” I said laughing.
He looked at me, “This girl, your mouth dey sharp o.”
I pushed at his shoulders lightly, “Abeg, go back to your post joor, before she gives you a notebook filled with rules.”
He shook his head at me with a small smile and went out of the building.
The COS was one of the few people I respected in the company. He didn’t go around bullying people because of the power he held. If it were others, they would have rushed to either flog or punish something if they had just stepped on their shoes. He didn’t go around chasing all the young women in the company. He had a wife and was careful not to mess around with the girls in the company. He had a woman outside his marriage, but she didn’t work in the company. It had been one of the first things he had told me about himself. It wasn’t fair to his wife, but then it didn’t reduce my respect for him.
There was an aspect of my work that I really enjoyed—it was the morning walk with my boss. My boss being the Head of the Admin took walks round the company every morning. At first, I didn’t like as it was an exercise and I hated doing anything that would make me feel tired or stressed out. But every morning, I had begun to look forward to my everyday walk with her. And so, when I saw her come out of the office with her Access Bank umbrella, I picked up my phone and followed her out of the building.
Typical of the Chinese people, my boss walked as though someone was chasing her. At first, I had followed her back-to-back, running when I saw that she had left me behind, but now I walked at my own pace, though I made sure that she was in sight so that if she needed to talk with a Nigerian worker, I could reach her on time. She hadn’t complained about this, yet, but I would take advantage of it. It wasn’t like we would even talk to each other if we walked at the same pace.
As we neared the Raw Materials Department, I conspicuously looked at my phone to check if my make-up was okay. I cleaned off some whitish substance from my lips and smacked them together.
The reason I had tolerated this hard exercise with my cold and tight-lipped boss, was because of my crush and soon-to-be boyfriend, Leon. I had always frowned at the girls who had been willing to pursue a relationship with Chinese men, but meeting Leon cleared up my reservations, because for me it was love at first sight. Well, not really love, but something in my heart moved the first time he spoke to me.
Leon was one of the youngest Chinese people I have met in Nigeria. He was the nerdy type that said nothing, unless you first spoke to them, but when he looked at you, he gave the impression that he was listening to you. And his light nods during conversations endeared him to me. He was easy to bully especially since he was in the midst of older and more experienced Chinese men. I had met him when I had been sent to call one of the workers from his department and he had been the Chinese man on duty. When I saw him, that speechlessness that usually assailed me when called to translate, hit me again, but this time it was with serious heart fluctuations. I almost felt that I would have a heart attack. I was glad when he had asked me in English, “Who are you looking for?” because I didn’t trust myself not to spout off my stupid thing like “I like you” in Chinese.
“Wow! Finally, a Chinese person that speaks good English,” I had said then instantly regretted it. “Sorry,” I said covering my mouth with my palm.
He smiled at me, I almost drooled, “It’s okay. I understand why you said that.” How can a Chinese person be so fine, I thought.
I was used to ugly Chinese men who smelled like garlic and cigarettes, now meeting a young Chinese person who was handsome and could speak good English…’Wow, just wow!’ was the only thing that kept running through my mind. I suddenly wished they would transfer me from the Admin to the Raw Materials Department, even though it was one of the most strenuous and daunting work in the company, especially with the constant contact with dangerous chemicals. And then, one thing led to another and soon, we had each other on WeChat and I started going with him for his evening jogs. I didn’t like exercise, but when it comes to working out with cute guys, count me in…