(Link to Part One: https://blackgirlinspore.com/2015/10/16/singapore-single-and-searching-a-tall-glass-of-water-1)
Amaka hid her phone between her legs.
“Is that right?”, her boss Indira looked up from her copy of Amaka’s report, her glasses pushed up over her honey-streaked mane.
Amaka caught Rohit’s eye and he gave an almost imperceptible nod.
“Yes, that’s correct”, Amaka ventured.
“That’s inaccurate”, thundered Matthew, head of the trading desk. “Thirty percent of our trades may have been in Jarkarta but the company’s French. So technically, it’s low risk”.
“Technically, this company’s track record is very poor”, Amaka shot back. “They don’t bank with us and their credit rating has been sliding since 2011”.
“Indira”, the Scotsman growled. “It’s a government owned company. They rarely default. Can you explain this to your little -”
“Hey, hey!”, Indira held her hands up. “Let’s cool down, there’s no need for names”.
“I’m tired of sending emails asking for our limits to be increased”, Matthew pushed on. “I need a credit risk officer that can make accurate decisions, not one who upholds every trade request the system denies!”
“I understand that Matthew, but this is a matter of policy. And Amaka is one of our best officers. We’ve seen our profits increase exponentially since she joined us last year”.
Matthew took a deep breath, clearly still irritated but unable to argue. Amaka allowed herself a little smirk, making sure he caught it and Indira didn’t.
“This is what we’re going to do”, Indira flipped the report shut. “Amaka will refer all challenges pertaining to your trading desk to me, and I’ll take a policy evaluation request upstairs”.
“Thank you”, Matthew rose triumphantly, his team of senior traders copying him. He led them out the conference room, ignoring Amaka.
“That was unnecessary”, Indira snapped, pushing her chair back. “You don’t do yourself any favours talking to him like that. You need allies in a bank like this, it doesn’t matter how smart you are.”
“Yes, Indira”, Amaka stood up. Rohit too.
“Watch your attitude. I’m not going to tell you again”, Indira pushed the glass door open.
Amaka waited till she was out of earshot.
“Are you serious?”, she hissed, collecting her papers. “My attitude? The man was ready to eat me alive!”
“I’ve told you”, Rohit laughed, holding the door open. “It’s your accent”
“Please, don’t let me knock you out”, Amaka kissed her teeth.
“Plus that noise you keep making”, Rohit followed her across the busy office. “You just sound so angry all the time, it doesn’t matter what you say”.
“At least they can hear what I’m saying. No one can understand your accent, they think you’re taking their order”.
“They think you’re cooking it”.
They walked side by side, the young Sikh a good head taller than the short, curvy Nigerian.
Amaka dumped her papers on her desk but stayed standing, one hand on her chair.
“She’s been off with me”, she jerked her head towards Indira’s office. “Have you noticed?”
“Not really”, Rohit shrugged, already on his computer.
“Ever since the staff party. You haven’t noticed?”
“What happened at the staff party?”
She hesitated. Rohit was a solid guy, but he was a guy. She wasn’t sure he’d understand. And she hated gossip, unless of course she could use it.
“Nothing”, she lied, sitting down. “Probably just female BS, you know”
“Yeah”, Rohit murmured, half-distracted. “She’s a successful manager earning close to a million in one of the largest banks in the world. She’s probably just jealous of you”.
The rest of the day disappeared in reports, phone calls and emails. Her Blackberry pinged from time to time. It was always the same offenders – Dara needing advice, her mother asking if there was any new guy on the scene, net-a-porter telling her about their current sale. She ignored them all.
She loved her job. She loved the power she had. Everytime a trader pushed a button, a complex algorithym determined if they could make the trade or not. And if the trader contested it, then it came to her and she made the ultimate decison. She had the power to reject the trade or overwrite the computer’s decision.
This was exactly what she came to Singapore to do, why she asked for the transfer from Lagos – to get an indepth knowledge of other markets. She didn’t just want to be a one trick pony. Just because she was African didn’t mean that was the only market she was interested in. She wanted to do it all.
She checked her diamond-studded Omega constellation, her recent gift to herself, and swore loudly.
“7.30!”, she looked round the almost empty office.
“What’s the matter? Missing Scandal?”, Rohit missiled his Redbull into her bin.
“I’m supposed to meet my friend in Chinatown. She’s giving a talk on African history and I’m sooo late”, she grabbed the Gucci bamboo python bucket bag slung over her chair.
She hurried to the lift and taking out a brush, tidied her fringed weave in her reflection.
“Hold it!”, Indira’s voice sailed over, more a command than a request.
Amaka held the door open, smiling at her boss as she entered. She got a grimace in return.
The lift closed and began it’s fifty-floor descent.
The two women stood in silence. Amaka opened her mouth then hesitated. Should she say something or let the more senior woman give her the go-ahead? They used to have such a good relationship: warm, frank and easy. So many of her friends complained about having difficult female bosses, Amaka had always boasted about having a great mentor in Indira. That had all changed two weeks ago.
“Indira”, she turned. “I’m sorry I was forward in the meeting. Next time, I’ll talk less and listen more”.
For God’s sake,Amaka groaned, What does this woman want? Blood?
“And…I’m sorry about what you’re going through. With your husband. I want you to know that I’ve been discreet and you can trust me completely”, Amaka forced herself to look the woman in the face. “And if you ever need to-”
The lift doors opened.
“Have a good weekend”, Indira strode out.
Amaka touched her security card on the metal gate, wishing she could disappear into the glass floor. She took small steps, widening the gap between them.
What were you supposed to do when your boss gets drunk and blurts out that her husband is sleeping with their helper…?
Thankfully, it was past rush hour so there was a taxi waiting outside. Amaka stepped out into the warm night, breathing with relief as she watched Indira drive off.
Please Father, let this weekend go slow.
A blue taxi pulled up and Amaka braced herself for the sub-zero conditions.
“Jiak Chuan street, Chinatown”.
“Jiak Chuan or Chinatown?”, the elderly man grunted.
“Isn’t Jiak Chuan street in Chinatown?”.
“Which one you want, lah?”, the man demanded, as if they’d been disputing this for days.
“Jiak Chuan, Uncle, Jiak Chuan”, she was too tired to argue.
Everyone was spoiling for a fight today. She was just going to keep her mouth closed from now on.
It was a short drive, just round the corner in fact. There were many restaurants on Jiak Chuan, with clumps of people smoking outside, little boutique hotels and the odd local food court. She told the Uncle the name of the restaurant, and he drove slowly, his neck craned out the window.
“You know what Uncle”, she reached for the door handle. “I’ll just jump out here”.
“This the place?”, he peered into the dark alley ahead.
“No, but I can find it. It’s faster to walk”.
The old man made a clicking noise and braked.
“8.50”, he announced gruffly.
Amaka held out her credit card. “Nets”.
“No Nets!”, the man exclaimed. “Machine no work, no Nets, cannot!”
“But you should have told me that, Uncle! Your taxi says Nets”.
“No Nets, machine not working”.
She was so fed up, but she was late for this stupid event and Lillian would be moody if she missed her talk. They hadn’t seen each other in over a month and the last time they’d spoken, she’d gotten the distinct feeling something was wrong.
“Fine, fine”, she shoved a $50 dollar note at him.
“Eh! No change!”, he threw his hands up.
“Are you kidding me?”
Nearly ten minutes later and she’d counted eight dollars in coins in his wrinkly palm.
“That’s all I have!”, she ignored his protests and jumped out the car.
She spied the restaurant on her right and climbed the four storied tea house to the top floor.
It was darkly lit with a small bar at the back, and rows of benches facing a large screen. The room was packed, and a panel of speakers sat at a table in the front. A smartly dressed man with dreadlocks addressed the room.
“The ancient ruins in Kenya dated from the fourteenth century, and included a palace, private houses and a Great Mosque….”, he spoke in a Northern accent. Photos of ancient ruins flashed across the screen.
Every seat was taken so she moved to the bar as quietly as her heels allowed.
“Rum and coke, please”, she ordered, already sweaty. “Lots of ice”.
She gulped her drink and looked round the room, but couldn’t see Lillian anywhere. No Dara either.
Are you serious?, she fished for her phone. She could be doing so many things right now– watching Empire, reading Bella Naija, getting a pedicure while watching Empire and reading Bella Naija!
Sorry! Just got an instruction…see you Sunday! At least Dara had the decency to text her – nothing from Lillian.
She’d started to compose an abusive text when footsteps echoed up the wooden steps. She stepped aside to let the person join, her eyes still on her screen.
“Total B.S.”, she muttered.
“I’ve seen the ruins. It’s true…”, a deep voice uttered.
She looked up at the tall man leaning on the bar beside her. His face was oval, his cheekbones sitting high above a full mouth. He pushed his square glasses up his nose. She turned back to her phone, suppressing the flutter in her belly.
“… and archaeologists found evidence of a recycling water system, piped water and indoor toilets. This, at a time when the English were throwing their waste out the window!”, the lecturer exclaimed.
Laughter filled the room and some of the audience clapped.
“It’s the end that counts, not the beginning”, she whispered, glancing at his left hand. No ring.
“You don’t think it’s impressive?”, the guy asked.
“Who cares if a handful of elites had toilets?”, she shrugged. “Elites have toilets now, does the average African have running water? We need to stop boring the world about the past and start dealing with our very real and present problems”
“Hmmm… ‘Water no get enemy’ as Fela said”, the guy nodded.
Amaka burst out laughing. People sitting close by turned round, throwing her pointed looks.
“What’s so funny?”, the stranger dropped his voice, stepping closer.
“I’ve never heard anyone drop that lyric with a voice like Prince Charles”, she snickered.
He smiled, sipping his drink, but Amaka sensed the mood dip.
Easy, she cringed, remembering her recent vow to tame her tongue.
“I’m Amaka, and I have no filter. Sorry”, she held out her hand.
“Lanre”, he shook her hand. “Nice to meet you”.
“Are you new to Singapore?”
“Yeah, how did you know?”
“You’re wearing a jacket”, she teased. “No one wears jackets here”
He looked down at his outfit and nodded. “You’re very perceptive. So if you don’t like African history, why’d you come?”
“I got stood up”. She mirrorred his laidback stance, hoping both it and her Asos Curve Bodycon were elongating her short body.
“What an idiot”.
They held eye contact for a moment, then Lanre leaned forward to touch her nearly empty glass.
“Can I get you another?”
“Mmm…I just made plans”, she lied, gesturing to her phone.
“Ok…hey, do you know where I can get a nice gift?”.
“It depends who it’s for – wife, girlfriend?”
“No, and no”, he smiled, revealing deep dimples in his cheeks. “It’s my mum’s birthday next week. I need to send something”.
“Right…”, she smiled back. “Well, you could try Orchard road, Marina Bay Sands, Haji Lane…all good spots”.
“That’s a lovely bag…maybe something like that”.
“You don’t want to buy bags here. You’ll pay at least twenty percent more”.
“You see, I’m clueless. I think I need a guide. Someone with great taste who knows the city and has few hours to spare tomorrow. You don’t happen to know anyone like that?”
She sipped her drink, trying to buy time. She liked this guy, but he was smooth. Not in a slick, rehearsed way, but with a sweet openness that was even more dangerous. She couldn’t remember the last guy she’d bantered with, who’d had the wit to match hers, who didn’t think she should do all the chasing because he had so many other options.
“Give me your phone”, she stuck out her palm, decision made.
He handed it to her and she entered her details in his address book.
“See you tomorrow”.
“See you tomorrow”.
She walked round him and down the stairs, conscious of his gaze running down her body. She sent mental thanks to her mother for the genetic gift of a fine derriere.
Her phone vibrated.
“Forgot to tell you! The hottest guy just joined our office…I think this is the one!”, Dara’s text flashed across her screen.
Some people never learned to keep their cards close to their chest, Amaka smiled.