He rushed back into the library half an hour later, excitement written all over his face. ‘Phew, Jocelyn really took my time.’ He rubbed his palms together and advanced slowly towards her table. ‘Now, where were we?’
She raised her a head a fraction and regarded him with a look of disdain. Her eyes did a vertical scan of his person from head to toe, and then back up. She hissed and went back to work, studying her computer.
He stood there for a minute, mouth open. Aghast. Then he overcame his shock and proceeded cautiously towards her cubicle. ‘Come on, we were having the best discussion we’ve had in months, don’t you wanna finish it?’ He smiled broadly.
‘No.’ She didn’t look away from her computer this time.
He felt like killing her, as his face contorted into many shades. Dang! He thought, the icy queen is back. He should have known and just kept away from her when she was doing all that acting. Now foolishly, he’d allowed her to put him under her spell, he needed to break free.
Quietly, and subdued, he turned around and started for his cubicle. He hadn’t taken three steps when she addressed him.
‘I told you I loved you, and you couldn’t wait to flee. How do you think that makes me feel.’ Her words trailed after him.
He stopped. Turned around and saw her slouched on her chair, her arms folded across her chest. She had an expression he couldn’t place on her face. He tried to speak but found that only his hands functioned as his open mouth would not generate any sound that made up speech. He threw up his hands.
‘Okay, you got me. I came back didn’t I? I had to answer Jocelyn too.’ He walked back and towered above her desktop computer. ‘I did not run away. It may have appeared that way, but I didn’t run, I was called out, you were here.’
She raised her brow. ‘Maybe, still, I don’t think it’s any cool that you had to run off after her. And you know what I’m talking about.’
‘Okay, can we bury this hatchet and move along? I’d like to complete that discussion.’ He winked at her.
She rolled her eyes. ‘Justin, what happened earlier was a glitch. Yes, I do love you, but I don’t think you feel the same. So I’ll let you have your peace and mope in silence.’ She looked away from him, into her monitor and started clicking on the mouse.
Justin stood there for more than a minute before finally making the short trip to his cubicle. He sat across from her and stared at her. Watching as she concentrated on her work without giving him a second glance. It took almost half an hour for him to recover and go back to work.
They didn’t exchange words after that incident and the work day ended. Justin went home angry at himself for being the fool that he was. He knew he had to get her off his mind and he determined to. Then he went to sleep and forgot her.
He was at the office earlier than usual the next day. He completed all assignments he left the previous day and by the time she came, he had gone through three of the dailies they read to get information on the market trends. He responded to her greeting with a nod and turned away from her. Two he thought, can play the game.
Their relationship became more stilted than it already was. The bond they had hitherto forged to work as a team destroyed. Both Corpers didn’t seem to care to work as a team. They competed over the smallest assignments. That went on for months.
Suddenly, they were in their final month as corpers with the company. Their peers started making plans for sendforth and how to get employed with the company or secure a more lucrative employment.
Justin and Ugochi didn’t seem to mind the circus going on around them. They were too involved with their work to be encumbered with the vanity that was sendforth, neither were they thinking beyond their present employment.
Segun had sent Justin so many job application links and emails over their service year, but Justin had not for once reciprocated. That prompted Segun to ask, and he was surprised to hear that Justin on his own wasn’t searching for employment.
‘I won’t stay at home for more than two months after service year.’ He told Segun when his friend had started illustrating the need to apply.
The friends argued over the matter and when it became apparent to Segun that Justin was not interested in his future, he left his friend be and they talked about other things. Mostly girls.
A week to the end of their service year with the company, Justin and Ugochi were invited into their department head’s office. Mr Emmanuel Dada did not waste their time with so much preamble before getting to the crux of the matter.
Having worked for him for almost ten months, both of them knew they would get what was coming straight. Their boss offered them seats once they entered his office, he waited for them to settle before starting his discussion with them.
‘So, I’m told you two will be completing your service year next week. You’ll soon be leaving us to go search for greener pastures.’ He watched their reaction. None of them moved. They just sat still and waited for him to continue.
He continued speaking, ‘I have called you here this afternoon, before I consider myself a fair person. And in all honesty, you two have made my life miserable over the last couple of days.’
Still no movement. Justin and Ugochi remained expressionless.
‘This is the problem,’ Mr Dada spread out his hands on the table, leaning forward towards them. I have to recommend one of you two, and having appraised your work over the last ten months, I can’t choose. There’s not much separating you and in all honesty, I’m of the mind to forward both your names, allow HR sort themselves out. The problem is I have been mandated to choose one of you.’
‘The company usually retains the best corper in every batch, now we have seven corpers in your batch. Honestly, both of you have performed better than the rest, and by a mile too. Still one of you must go. Whoever I recommend gets the job. That’s why I called you both in here. Let’s decide together.’
‘Recommend her.’ Justin didn’t move as the words came out of his mouth. He sat still like a soldier taking orders from a superior officer.
Ugochi watched him in surprise. She was going to recommend herself but he had beaten her to it. She sat and looked at him, wondering what kind of person he really was. She felt remorseful then, and turned to face Mr Dada.
‘So we’re agreed?’ He compelled her to agreed so he could send them out of his office and make a call.
‘No sir. You can recommend us both. If you can’t, I’ll want him to have the job, he deserves it. I do not think I’ll want to continue working here without him.’
It was Justin’s turn to be surprised.
Mr Dada looked at both of them, pausing to observe their facial movements. Not one of them was intimidated. ‘Okay you two, I guess if we cannot reach an agreement, I’ll just cede the opening to another department.’
He watched as both corpers left his office, then he picked up his intercom and placed a call to HR.
Service year ended without much fuzz. They barely participated in their own sendforth, were inundated with gifts. And as the best corpers, the company gave both Justin and Ugochi a car each. It was there that it was announced that Miss Funmilayo Ikudaisi a corper with the admin department had been retained by the company.
At the NYSC camp in Iyana Ipaja, after collecting their discharge certificates, they found out that they were not eager to leave each other’s company. After months of bickering and pretending to not like each other, the two of them held hands and walked around the camp ground watching the displays on parade and enjoying the noise for the last time.
They found a secluded area and sat across each other. After minutes of staring into each other’s eyes and not coming up with words, their heads started the inevitable movement that would bring about the contacts of their lips. That was when Segun found them.
‘Guys,’ he said panting, ‘I’ve got good news for you.’ He stopped short of them and broke into a smile. ‘Your company’s HR manager is here to see you both.’ His grin widened.