It’s been a while. We don’t talk as often as we used to, and yet nothing has changed; not my admiration of your femininity, poise, wisdom, grace, eloquence and uncommon kindness, not your inexplicable fondness for and devotion to me, and certainly not our ability to talk about any and everything – when we do get to talk.
I remember the girl that I was when I first arrived Lagos. When I think of her, and then look at the woman I am today, two words flash before my eyes; God…Dee.
In May 2007 I left my little job in Warri after many months of longing for a better life. I remember walking home from work one day and, in a moment of intense awareness of the sheer ordinariness and tedium of my existence, muttering a quiet but heartfelt prayer: “God, please let me be somebody in this life.” So the next time my friend in Lagos raised the issue of relocating, I said yes without knowing how it would come about.
It turned out that saying yes to myself – yes to my potential, yes to my greatness, yes to more – was enough.
On the 4th of September 2007 I showed up ready to begin a career in Public Relations. I was prepared for work, but I was not prepared for you, Dee. When I first set eyes on you that first day at work, I had no way of knowing how much you would come to mean to me. It still amazes me how quickly we took to each other, even now that I can clearly see it was meant to be. What would a senior colleague, 11 years older than I for that matter, stand to benefit from a relationship with me?
I did not understand it at the time, but I do now. It was through your eyes that I truly saw myself for the first time. It was you who made me aware of my personal brand. My ability to look at a document and spot errors – from typos and grammatical blunders, to double spaces between words – was something I took for granted.
“It’s not about knowing English, Joy. I have a good command of the English Language myself; I was a broadcaster for almost a decade, FRCN trained. It’s the combination of language proficiency AND attention to detail. Don’t take it for granted. My husband’s company would benefit greatly from having someone like you.”
You influenced everyone in the office with your opinion of me. It wasn’t long before the MD insisted that no document leave the office without having been checked by me. You praised me publicly and corrected me privately. You gave me books and magazines to read. You gave me clothes, shoes and jewellery. You shared life experiences with me. And if that was all you did, it would have been enough.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about our relationship is the fact that you did not need that job. Oh, everybody who worked there knew that; we all realized from the car you came to work in, the clothes you wore, and the trips to South Africa and Paris for medical checkups, that you were not there for the money; but it was only later in our friendship that I would realize just how much you did not need the money.
You also did not need to keep in touch with me after you resigned to go start a family. You were no longer my boss, and even though I still wanted to be friends with you, it was your call, really. And you chose to be my friend. You chose to drive from the Island to the mainland just to take me out for starch and banga soup. You took my calls and counselled me when the need arose. When it became necessary for me to leave that office, you recommended me for a role in your husband’s company.
The pride you took in me as I grew in my new job meant almost as much as the fat pay check. You made sure to tell me all the wonderful things your husband said about my intelligence, dedication and readiness to learn new things. “He believes you can do more than research. He says he’s discussed with the Consultant to train you as a scriptwriter.” By believing in me you gave me more than a job, Dee; you gave me a sense of worth, a new career, the opportunity to learn new skills and a lifelong mentor who taught me how to write documentary scripts, and more.
You saw my gifts when I couldn’t see them, and you did your best to open my eyes to my own value. I look at my life, count my blessings, and count you 10 times.
There’s no way I could possibly recount all the things you’ve given me and done for me, and all the opportunities I have had because of you. Neither is there any way I could ever pay you back. Still, when I remember the girl I was when I first arrived Lagos, and look at the woman I am now, I purpose in my heart that I will pay. I have made a commitment to be to someone what you have been to me, God willing. I will pay it forward.