I was in office the next day, my self-esteem battered. My sister had earlier told me however difficult or unrewarding the job was, there would never be one that would satisfy me completely.

Rita and Terrence walked in shortly after my arrival. Both of them greeted me like nothing had happened the previous day. I was relieved but kept questioning why they were acting nice towards me. I was expecting a sack. This made Sylvia angry. She thought she had finished me.

It was soon time for the morning meeting. I sat at the back and Sylvia at the front, close to Rita’s table. Rita informed us that the chief human resource officer was on her way from Kampala to take us through work ethics but we could, in the meantime, start our meeting.

To Sylvia’s dismay, Rita called on me to lead a prayer for opening the meeting. The silence in the room was loud. I became more afraid of Rita’s niceness. I led the prayer. She and Terrence clapped after my prayer. The team was clearly very disappointed. Sylvia was looking at me from the corner of her eyes as I walked back to my seat.

Rita then praised me for being hard working. She told the meeting that she had received feedback about my impressive performance. Terrence nodded in approval. The team got angrier.

She then moved to part of the conversation I had been dreading. She said I should not mix business with pleasure because I was a young woman with a promising future. Terrence again nodded in Rita’s approval as the team laughed mockingly. I bowed my head in shame.

“You shouldn’t make the same mistakes some of us made when we were your age,” Rita continued. I felt bad for upsetting such a nice woman, albeit ignorantly.

The chief human resource officer finally arrived. There was an air of indifference about her. She disproved most things Rita said in her brief to the meeting. The team seemed happy with her.

She took us through the standards of behavior that the company required of us. It was such a long list but the one that stood out was that spouses were not allowed to work in the same company and workmates were not allowed to date too. If two people fall in love, one was supposed to resign. She said the details were in our contract letters that she had carried along. Everyone clapped in jubilation except Sylvia.

Her mischief came to light when she raised her hand and asked the HR why some people were working with their sweethearts in the company. The HR was lost for words for a few minutes then said, “As I told you already, your contract letters are not yet with you but we expect you to stop that relationship upon getting your formal contracts. We can excuse you because you are still new but if it was happening say between Rita and anyone else, we would penalise her because she’s been with us long enough,” the HR said.

Sylvia raised her hand again, probably to volunteer more details but Rita got up and cut her shot. “I think HR has explained everything. For the purpose of time, let’s move to the next agenda, which is lunch and you can get your letters,” she said.

We went for lunch. Sylvia was determined to get an opportunity to talk to the HR as she kept close to her. Rita was very much alert and never gave the HR and Sylvia any opportunity to be by themselves.

I was right to be suspicious of Rita’s charm towards me that morning. She was determined to sweep her secret with Terrance under the carpet by being nice to me. She could have succeeded in confusing me and the team, but she was wrong for trusting Sylvia.

 For all I know, Sylvia could still be plotting to bring out the skeleton in Rita’s closet.

End

 

 

Missed Part VI? Read it here.

After the two-week training, we started work at Quick Media Ltd. Most of my workmates spent the day playing lapdog to Terrance, the Gulu Branch Manager, in the hope that he would consider them for the vacant positions of Editor and Deputy Branch Manager.

The competition got stiffer when Terrence said the bosses in Kampala promised to give us priority for those positions as long as we proved our worth. For the moment, we were all news reporters. Terrence enjoyed the attention from the team until he realised stories were hardly being filed - except by me. 

Terrence noticed my commitment and he was impressed. We became close. The fence that separates boss and subordinate started falling. I was in love. He noticed it and seemed to enjoy it, privately. Terrence would go for lunch at a distant restaurant and text me to follow him for lunch. I enjoyed his lunches, but also wondered why he wasn’t being open about the situation. When I asked him why he was secretive, he kept quiet, but I noticed he was nervous.

Two days later, when we had gone for our lunch and secured a table in the most hidden corner of the restaurant, Terrence said he was afraid of my colleagues at work. “They will make our lives a living hell out of envy,” he said. He emphasised that we should continue secretly. We did.

Within a month, jealousy had taken the better part of me. I couldn’t stand seeing Terrence talk to any workmate. I practically followed him like a dog and my performance was beginning to deteriorate. I didn’t care. All I cared for was Terrence. It never mattered to me that he was not emotionally expressive towards the “relationship” or even me.

It became apparent to my workmates that I was in love with Terrence. Every time he was with a female workmate, whether on a business matter or otherwise, I showed up to spy or eavesdrop. Terrence became increasingly irritated, but said nothing. I cared less about his irritation. I made sure I did everything to mark my territory whenever Terrence was with any lady. He left his belongings anywhere within the office except his mobile phone. I would pick them up for him – his jacket, tea cup and more, thinking he would notice my care and appreciate. He didn’t.

On this particular day, Rita showed up in office for her monthly working visits. Sylvia, my workmate, was suddenly all over Terrence and I became uncomfortable. No lady had dared challenge my position. When it was time for a meeting, Sylvia secured a seat for Terrence next to hers. I was going crazy. I decided to go pick Terrence from his office but he was in a meeting with Rita. I got angry seeing them together. I couldn’t trust Rita with my Terrence.

I stood in the hall and waited in vain. Their meeting was taking forever. I walked back into our meeting room and ordered Sylvia out of the seat she occupied. She confidently questioned my order.

“I’m the one supposed to sit near Terrance, not you,” I barked.

The room exploded with laughter and Sylvia laughed loudest. I didn’t care. All I needed was to sit next to Terrence. When Terrence and Rita finally walked in, I ran and hugged him, taking his bag and ignoring the puzzled look on the faces of everyone in the room. Terrence was nervous and visibly angry. Never mind that since we started lunching, he had made no mention of love or sex.

When he sat, I again ordered Sylvia to leave her seat for me. At that point, she pushed me and a fight almost erupted. Rita demanded an explanation and the whole team rose up against me. Each of them was more than willing to explain the story to Rita.

Rita charged at me like an angry dog, turned to Terrence - who was sweating and on his knees – demanding an apology and explanation at the same time.

“I’m paying for your masters, got you a job, a free house and you still can’t resist this useless girl?” Rita charged.

I wondered whether Terrence was Rita’s young brother or relative. I didn’t want to imagine they were anything more than that. Rita stormed out of the meeting and Terrence ran frantically after her.

I soon learned that though much younger, Terrence was Rita’s fiancé and Sylvia had set me up to expose me. The well-hatched plan worked.

End

 

Did you miss Part V? Read it here

*****

It was three weeks to graduation and I hadn’t left home since I suspended my job hunt. I had gained unreasonable weight and my skin had transformed into a dark, rough coating. I also stopped taking calls from former classmates.

One Thursday morning, my phone rang incessantly. Irritated, I stretched my hand and held it close to my face to see who was calling. It was Annah. Irritated, I cancelled the call. By experience, I knew she never had good news for me.

I threw the phone back at the edge of the bed but within seconds, it buzzed, announcing the arrival of a message.  “Are you aware that you have a retake?”Annah’s message read.   She must be lying, I thought to myself. But the more I thought about the message, the more heartbroken I became. I picked up the phone and dialed Ian’s number, even when I’d been ignoring his calls since we met at Children’s Hope International.

I asked if he was aware that I had a retake. “What prank is this? I don’t even know your registration number!” he said. Then we both went silent. It was that silence that made Ian sense that I wasn’t bluffing.

“Are you there G?”

I responded with a sob. Ian asked for my registration number and left for university. One hour later, he confirmed that I had failed one paper and needed to re-take. That meant one whole year of waiting to graduate. I suddenly felt hot and light at the same time, like I didn’t have bones beneath my skin. I walked out of the house, oblivious of my destination.

I found myself by the roadside, watching cars for several minutes before fear gripped me. What if someone I went to university with found me in this state of distress? But still, I was glad I left home. I imagined if I’d stayed there by myself for another minute, I would have done something terrible to myself.

I continued walking by the roadside and found myself in front of my hair stylist’s salon. My stylist and the girls in her salon always had stories about every event in town. Their chit-chat could take my mine off the retake, I thought. I could also learn how to style hair and forget about job search, who knows where my breakthrough could come from?

“Your hair is still good but why not take good care of it?” my hair stylist wondered.

She instructed one of the girls to apply oil in my scalp and style the braids. ­­­­ I inquired whether she was doing it for free and she affirmed. As I waited for my hair to be worked on, I dosed off on the chair and moved to the couch shortly after, to have a proper sleep. I was woken up by a fat woman who needed more space than was available for her to sit comfortably.

On TV, armored police mercilessly battered a group of youth. A mixture of teargas fired by the cops and smoke from the protesters' burning tyres, billowed on screen. The salon went mute. Then an argument broke out among the hair stylists. Group 1 said the whole scenario was staged and a propaganda to soil the name of some politicians. Group 2 said since it was on TV, it must be true. However, Group 1 wondered how the journalists got to know about the event in record time. They further argued that if it was true, they would only reach when the damage had already been done. They claim the whole violence was acted.

“Do you think everything you watch in Nigerian movies are true? They are acted to teach us. These TV people also act,” one lady said and the whole room seemed convinced.

I knew this argument was misleading about how media operates. So I explained how communication flows from the source to the audience.  The four hairdressers were amazed and changed their earlier stance about what was showing on TV. For the first time, the fat woman who had been minding her phone the entire time, spoke to me.  

“What do you do?”

I was afraid to introduce myself as a graduate anymore because of my unkempt looks and my pending retake, but I did. She gave me her business card and told me to call her the next day, saying she was looking for people like me.  Rita worked in a media house that needed to recruit more people.

The following morning, she directed me to a hotel where they were already training new recruits. Just like she had informed me on phone, Rita was not at the hotel but I found Terrence, the team leader. He was very welcoming. He told the trainees that finally luck had hit them because there was a potential graduate among them. The scolds on the faces of the other four trainees was clear.

“We’re a team. It doesn’t matter whether you hold a diploma, a degree or a certificate, we’ll be after your performance,” Terrence offered, realizing his mistake.

The damage had already been done.

 End.

Did you miss Part IV? Read it here

*****

My flopped job search at Children’s Hope International dampened my spirit but a flicker of hope lingered. That’s why instead of going home after visiting CHI offices, I stopped by Town High School. 

I walked into the deputy head teacher’s office and told him I could teach English Language. “Are you a teacher?” he inquired. He had earlier welcomed me with a smile, lending me some reassurance. 

“Yes,” I replied, suppressing the nervousness in my voice.  

“That’s nice! How long have you been teaching?”  

I told him I was awaiting graduation. He laughed out loud at my response and for a minute I wondered if what I said was funny. A smile crept onto my lips and I was tempted to laugh with Mr. Deputy. When his forehead suddenly creased into fat folds of skin and his laughter disappeared as abruptly as it had come, I sat upright in my chair. I held my breath. 

It’s unfortunate you’ve not yet graduated, he finally said after what felt like a year of silence and staring.

I felt hope fall and crumble next to my dusty feet.  

“You see…” he continued, “If Ministry of Education officials find you in our classroom, they will arrest you and the head teacher.”

I suddenly felt guilty. Guilty for lying to Mr. Deputy that I was a teacher by profession. I cleared my voice to start apologizing when he cut in.

“My daughter, wait for your graduation. When you get your transcript, go register with the ministry, become a legally recognised teacher and come back. We’ll make you teach English Language.”

His tone had now become sympathetic, fatherly even. I felt worse for telling a lie.

I muttered my thank you and left Mr Deputy’s office in a hurry. In the distance, Derrick, who went to the same university with me, was coming out of a classroom. He had studied Agriculture and I Communications. We were both awaiting graduation.

I didn’t like the envy that engulfed me when I ran into my classmate Ian at CHI offices earlier and yet here was Derrick, another reminder of my bad luck at job hunting. I decided to do something quick so he wouldn’t see me. I made an abrupt U-turn to Mr. Deputy’s office.

“What did you leave behind?” he asked when I re-entered his office, his demeanor, that of a troubled and irritated man. It was clear I wasn’t needed in the office but I made a last attempt.

“Deputy, I can also do secretarial work,” I offered.

He got up from his chair and told me to stick to teaching since I was a professional teacher. He told me I had chances of growing in my career as a teacher up to the rank of head teacher or even commissioner in the Ministry of Education.

“Don’t be taken up by quick money because the future is brighter in classrooms,” he added.

Mr. Deputy said he knows of many young teachers who abandoned the classroom for well-paying jobs with humanitarian NGOs, but when war ended in northern Uganda, and those organisations closed shop, staff were laid off.  

“But they had made their money,” I said.

“Do you think they were saving money?” Mr. Deputy countered and added, “I was quarreling with my son yesterday. He works with one of those NGOs but drinks like a fish. He despises me and the teaching possession.”

His forehead had creased again, eyes bulging as he talked. 

“In my son’s world, cheap phones, cheap waragi and cheap houses belong to teachers. He forgets that I raised him on my cheap standards. My children are eating me up,” he confided in a reflective tone.

The room fell silent.

Mr. Deputy wiped off sweat that had beaded his face and neck. I felt hot and wondered how I could help this man. He was clearly troubled.

He looked out the window, his eyes fixed onto something invisible in the distance. I wanted to say a final goodbye but didn’t want to interrupt his mental journey.

After about three minutes, Mr. Deputy’s sat, suddenly elated.

“Do you know that you can teach in the village?” he said.

I frowned at him unconsciously.

“You see!” he uttered, slamming the table in the process. Papers flew off the desk to different parts of the room. “That’s the mentality I’m talking about. You young women from university are very difficult to deal with because you are proud. You want to stay only in town? There are no jobs for you in town,” he continued. 

I regretted my decision of stopping at the school but had to remain calm. Through the window, I could see that the compound was clear. 

“Deputy, thank you,” I said and started for the door.

He called me back and with a calm voice, said, “My daughter, was I rude to you?” I replied in the affirmative but added I should have been more receptive of his suggestion for a job opportunity in the village.

Mr. Deputy looked relieved after my response. He added that he was not a tough man by nature but added that his children who earned big money only cared about alcohol, which makes him worry about the welfare of every young person.

“With my meager resources, I educated all my nine children. I will retire next year but I think I have no future,” he said, tears welling in his eyes.

“I’m sure your children are now out of home. They can take care of themselves, so don’t worry,” I counseled.

“I would rejoice if they were out of home,” he lamented, before adding, “My girls produce children and return home. The boys sell my land and drink off the money. I’m not proud of myself,” he dubbed his eyes with a dull brown handkerchief before continuing pouring his heart out more. I looked around the office for drinking water to calm him down but saw none.

He directed me to the next room, and it’s there - in the staff room - that I bumped into Derrick.

 “Have you joined us?” Derrick inquired, after we’d exchanged pleasantries. I said no.

Derrick said he would have been surprised if I had joined the school. “Look round this room,” he said. There were seven men and two women who seem to be in their 40s.

“This school doesn’t hire young women,” he whispered, adding that he got the position of a physics teacher because the lady he competed against, though fully qualified, had a toddler.

Derrick went on to list reasons why young women were not hired by the school.  Women were emotional, absconded duty, always found reasons to leave school and all that that slowed down the completion of the syllabus, he said.

I went back to Mr. Deputy’s office and handed him a cup of water. As he drunk, I saw him relax, and his eyes that was earlier teary, dry up. The irony of the moment was a school boss who had just broken down before me, a desperate job searcher, while also superintending over a policy that denied women work because of “emotions”. 

I grit my teeth in anger and decided that I needed to leave the school ASAP if I wanted to remain sane. I prayed for Mr. Deputy’s retirement to come soon, so that he could go put his house in order, instead of crumbling in his office, under the weight of a cocktail of emotions.  

In the meantime, I put my job hunt on an indefinite hold.

End.

 

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