Of Love and Life: Wages of Kindness

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By femi Akintunde-Johnson

My first note of regard goes to my friend; a not-too-young man with incredible number of years of professional experience. He is usually very unassuming, quiet and immensely gifted. Thomas (not real name) is not flippant with his mouth, his time… his family and his job. Being a man most comfortable and effective working behind the limelight, Tom is annoyingly tight-lipped about divulging information of any sort – worse still, embarrassing stories affecting his private life as a husband to an adorable lady he married over 20 years ago. Yet, bad news has a way of betraying its owners. Tom’s interesting stories got to me from five different and incomplete sources; weeks after some others had gone to town with the distorted and castrated tales that did not actually reflect the correct situation. Even the correct situation, when eventually Tom and his wife, Yetty narrated to me, in fitful details, still needed some clarification. But how do you go about asking for details of matters best left unsaid, from a couple who are bitterly hurt, even by the mere act of remembrance? It will be indecent.

But the gist is this: Tom loves his work as much as he loves his wife or vice versa. As far as Yetty is concerned, the ratio is quite clear, and very unfavourable to her. At work, Tom is a slave to his profession, and his humble and kind heart cannot stop offering any assistance he could give to both superior and junior colleagues. And he does not discriminate. His office is a beehive of activities; his telephone almost always off the hook.

Fortunately, his ears never get tired of baleful tales of the young and the old who seek his advice, support and help. It is not unusual for Tom to give his last naira note to others before he realises he has no money to take home. Ironically, he would rather push his car home without fuel than beg any of his colleagues for even a stop-gap loan. Certainty, he is not proud; he just does not want to be a burden on anyone. This is the character portrait of Thomas – few years ago – before the scandal that rocked his marriage to its sturdy foundation.

Miriam, a young adorable girl, was the catalyst. According to her own narration, that was the last thing on her mind. An opinion that Yetty and few of her more militant friends scorn with vehemence. As far as they are concerned, all Miriam needs are a dozen well-aimed slaps and a shove into the Lagos lagoon. If any man wants her thereafter, he can go fish her out! Such was the fury of Yetty, and those who shared her woes. And this is why… according to her… Tom took his goodness to the status of foolishness when he allowed female subordinates turn his office to counseling room, and him a psychotherapist as they wallowed in the turbulence of unstable romance and unreliable relationships. Tom therefore opened himself to the wiles of the young, calculating seducer called Miriam.

While Miriam was ostensibly crying on the shoulder of Tom, after another bouts of beating and cheating in the hands of a worthless boyfriend… she apparently was regaling her close friends with her ‘special’ closeness with the boss! And in fact, with time on her side, and admiration flooding in both directions, who says she could not kuku go all the way with Tom? The fact that he was married mattered very little – if at all this was not an original motive. Miriam seemed to have got a lot of green light with the obvious ‘kid-glove-hand’ Tom had been dealing with her official performance.

It is to Tom’s credit that he pours himself into his work. This same trait is the heartache of Yetty. As far as she is concerned, those ‘little’ girls will not let her husband do his work at the right time, so he can come home to his loving family. While Miriam and her fellow-travellers waste the useful hours of ‘Sir Tommy’ (as he’s fondly hailed by mates), the workaholic has to spend the few hours remaining in the day to complete his work – even if he has to go home as late as 11pm – or even later.

Still Yetty’s story: the danger in all this was unknown to the unperturbed Tom. Even while working late, he still had angelic escorts in two or three female colleagues hanging around the offices. Of course, one of these warm souls would be Miriam. At other times, only two of them would be in the office.

Yet, Tom’s eyes remained tightly shut to any scheme or subterfuge Miriam might be hatching. Soon, senior colleagues of Tom began to knock him subtly about his “open-house” style, warning him of the effect on staff morale. But by some divine calculation; the message did not sink in to Tom, or he didn’t think it was any of their business. Though he tried to build some hedge around himself with more work, and more, this was hardly successful – at least not with Miriam. She simply broke through Tom’s shallow defence with one tearful tale after the other of her eternally doomed relationships.

Don’t forget; this is still the picture according to Yetty. Recently, things have grown worse. Nowadays, it is not strange for friends to drop by, wondering: “Is it true? All these gists about Tom and this small girl!”…. Only two of the very brave ones, who seemed to have more extensive details, dared to cap her misery so carelessly: “Have you heard about Tom and that fat witch of a girl whose mother was divorced from three husbands?!” It was not that Yetty did not trust Tom; his soul would not admit extra-marital affairs. But the insinuations were getting on her nerves in a very bad way.

And again, these girls of today make a feast of tossing unsuspecting families in the air like dominoes; and she would not sit by and let one ‘nonsense’ girl mess up her family; and of course, she wouldn’t want to commit murder because of…. At this point in her narration, Yetty seems to forget herself, clamming up, in obvious pain and disgust.