I once had a client, a man with lofty ideas and limited resources, whose business was pertinent to the success of mine.
In those days, a Lagos bus conductor who did not have adequate change for his customers, would ‘join’ two or three passengers together by giving one of them the total value of their change.
At their stop, he would explain to them, in between soliciting new passengers and calling out the names of the bus stops ahead, that he did not have enough change. Then he would give one passenger a single Naira note, which represented all of their change, as the bus driver rode away. We understood that as far as change went, our fate was sealed with that passenger and we had to find a way to split the change.
I have walked away from this arrangement—the huddling, the debate, the shadowing the ‘lead’ passenger as he perambulates in search of change, so we would not be duped twice—without my change because time was more important to me than it was to the others.
I felt as though my client was the passenger with our change but this time, the stakes were too high for me to up and leave.
I shared my worries with a friend.
“Get close to his wife. She will make things easier for you,” Ronke said.
I knew what she meant and I recoiled at her words. My client’s wife was a woman with a smile for everyone. Petite and pretty, she remained mum if she happened to be around as her husband and I discussed business, but I was aware that her intelligent eyes took in everything. It seemed cavalier, predatory even, to befriend this angel for the sole purpose of using her to influence her husband as we did not seem to have anything in common.
I endured my client’s belligerence and failed promises, promises he made after I made presentations and shared proposals. At my wit’s end, one night I sat in Ronke’s car for hours and itemized the problems I faced. She suggested, yet again that I make friends with his wife.
Soon after, a chance meeting with my client’s wife occurred. After pleasantries, she lowered her voice although we were alone and told me about a similar project they were undertaking with another publisher. In her words, the wahala nor get end. Sensing an opening, I took the ball she’d passed to me, but I did not run to the goal post. I dribbled until all obstacles were cleared and then passed her the ball to take a clean shot to goal.
“Ah ah men!” she exclaimed, “They don’t understand. Leave it to me. Here,” she handed me her business card, “if you have any issues, give me a call.”
I collected her card without looking at it.
“I’m serious,” she said, stopping me with her intelligent eyes. “Timi, if you have any problems, call me.”
I never had to call her. My client gave me my change and then some.
I’ve wondered about this incident and what I call my moral high horse. I guess because I have been used as a stepping stone in business, I did not want to bathe someone else with gifts and attention and then slam the door not minding if her fingers were trapped in the hinges or not.
But isn’t that what we all do? When we were younger, my siblings and I chose the favourite child, the one whose requests were hardly turned down, as an emissary to our parents. I sometimes attend social events with colleagues, when I’d much rather stay at home in my pajamas, to influence outcomes in the office. Relationships grease the wheels of business and human interaction is fueled more by trust than logic. We trust referrals from those we know.
My client’s wife and I never became chummy. We didn’t share enough common ground and we could not commit the time needed to explore what little commonalities we might have had. I see her once a long while and respond to her smile, the one she has for everyone, without guilt, but with warmth. And I sleep easy at night.
©Timi Yeseibo 2016
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