‘Welcome to every one of you. It’s a pleasure to have you here. It’s a hectic…’

Griiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnn…

A firm voice from the Security department roused the building with ‘kindly evacuate the building immediately, there’s a fire outbreak. Leave whatever you’re doing and try to be calm.’

‘Try to stay calm?’ Tall Willie reiterated with his pupil clearly dilated. Obviously he hasn’t gotten this far to be charred in Stallion towers. Images of burnt robbers by street mobs along the streets of Surulere flashed through his mind at once. ‘Tufiakwa!’ he wished it away.

Mr Lanre continued his address although the topic had changed from a well-constructed welcome speech to a calm ‘please let us use the stairs. There’s no need to panic’.

He had said that with some element of regret though. He bit his lips at the thought that people will come late and escape his wrath, and of course it happened that way. He even had to do the apologies to the late-comers later.

The fire incident was a small thing after all. They announced we all could go back into the building and we all did, including the late-comers. Then the whole fire thing became not only recurrent, but symbolical. First Mr Kola, our direct Training instructor, an average height young energetic man with a British accent Queens English that rather exposed the language was not his mother tongue anyway. He was responsible for the second fire outbreak.

‘Don’t waste time, just answer in a single sentences’ Chidi smiled and looked left and right. Of course his newly found pal was hit by the timely bomb but the whole tie strangulating our trachea and the banking efico decorum we were carrying would not let us say anything na.

Truly, fire came in different forms. Some had to be bombs that exploded, others were just raw fire. Mr Lanre just began to pour fire. It was largely because he knew he would later apologize to us. Imagine him saying bluntly he was not nice yet he was smiling and dancing anyhow, and even cracking jokes, what else could be nicer than that. But when he was addressing us and now said something like ‘…I would tell you you’re fired’. Though a lot of guys were not listening attentively, but you know what that kind of fire can do na. The class was as silent as a graveyard for the first time.

Then Tall Willie would always quote a scripture. ‘For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.’ And made to bring out his android phone to show his guys that it was actually in Mark 9:49. ‘We must live by the word he added’. Those around him muffled their laughs as stealthily as they could.

Few minutes later, after Mr Lanre’s African Magic, came Zee World. You see, it wasn’t fire all the way. ‘This Mr Kihan eh, he’s just doing like that man in Kings of Heart.’ Chidi spoke as he watched the guy relish in his achievements and experience. Then it was fire again. ‘The training school is intensive. Very rigorous and intensive’ then the word intensive went on to be repeated more than a hundred times in a single address and whenever he said it, his voice deepened and his small eyes on a blackened face glittered.

He was no other than the man that would pay us our salary, Mr Osaye, Head HR, a short statured man that made up for his shortness with a large or rather wide body. If he were to be just short it would have saved him the general offence in the word short. Maybe we could have just called him small. But you don’t see him and think small. Not even in your wildest dreams. He is a big man and his words speak volumes.

‘…Jacking starts tomorrow’ he added.

Mehn… this thing no go easy o. Chidi whispered to himself. Well, Mr Jordan walked in just in time to tell us ‘Be relevant! Be more! Add value! Die empty!’ and all those motivational things. Well, we liked him though, but his stature was one thing Willie had a slight problem with. If he looked a little healthier than he truly was he would have inspired us the more. Not that he wasn’t healthy; it was that he was too healthy that he didn’t look it anymore. Thanks to all the exercises he said he usually did at age 60 something or more. Willie stared at him as if he could see through him. He wasn’t as energetic as Willie had wished for, even though he spoke about a lot of energetic things. Well, Mr Jordan must have been very energetic in his youth, he concluded.

Whatever becomes hot would definitely cool down, the wise men usually said. Isn’t it the normal way things should be in life? The party was the grand master Fire Chief. All the fire that had been set up all the while; all the different manner of fires – real fire outbreak, grammatical fire, firing fire, Training School fire, of course had to bow down to the chilling effect of carbonized splendour, juicy mastication and fun.

Chidi got home by past nine-ish and began to reflect on how the day had gone, and all that ran through his head was fire. Everything that had fire had relevance he thought to himself – both the good, the bad and the ugly. He imagined how unrecognized that computer must have been all its life until it decided to catch fire and sent every single person regardless of his or her position, rank in the company or even present engagement, running out of the 2nd tallest building in Nigeria, compulsorily through the staircase. In all its years of usefulness, it had watched so many other computers just go blank and get tossed in the trash can, so it decided it was not just going to turn blank. If it was going to leave the scene it had to create a mark. It caught fire.

‘I must catch fire! No. I must catch fire!!’ he screamed on his chair, shaking his head from left to right. His elder sister, Chinonye, rushed in at once, opening the door even without knocking.

‘Ah ah Chidi, what is the matter? You must catch fire. You must catch fire. Is it well with you, odikwa mma?’

‘This new job wey I just get eh sister, they must hear my name o. I must catch fire! Haba! No. No. No! I – I must catch fire!

Inspired by an experience in Stallion Towers, Nigeria with wonderful pals.

 

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