“If Any Man Be in Christ…”

A Short Story By Joy A. Adewumi

‘Where is she?!’ Tiwa’s heart jumped in her chest as she heard the screech of her senior colleague and former boss, Stella. ‘Oh, there she is!’ As people scurried out of the way for the fearsome marketing exec who was apparently in one of her moods again, Tiwa made to scurry out of sight so that she wouldn’t be caught in the crossfire. She pitied whoever was the target of Stella’s infamous anger on that wonderful Tuesday morning. ‘Hey! Stop right there!’ Tiwa stopped in her tracks as the order sounded directly behind her ears. At that point, she didn’t even have to turn back to find out that she was the unlucky target that morning.

‘Where do you think you’re going, you two-faced, lying, backstabbing, pretentious, lowlife?!’ Tiwa blinked rapidly at the assault of words. She’d seen Stella in action before but not only had she never heard such an offensive string of words directed at someone in her presence, she certainly had never been the recipient. ‘At least, if you think you can do whatever you like since you now have wings to soar, you should at least have the gumption to stand and face me like a real woman. But no? You were scurrying off into the closet.’ Tiwa blinked rapidly again. She was lost. Was Stella sure she had the right person?

‘Sorry, Stella. I’m-I’m-uhm- I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying.’ Tiwa’s voice shook as she glanced between the looks of pity on the face of the onlookers and Stella’s fast distorting face.

‘You slimy lowlife! You don’t understand what? You have the gumption to bid a proposal for an account that has been under my care since its inception and you’re telling me you don’t understand!’ Stella made a fist at her side as she spoke between clenched teeth. Tiwa just stood there disoriented. What on earth was Stella going on and on about?

‘What do you mean? I didn’t bid on-’ Her defence was cut short though. Stella was not listening to anything. It looked like she didn’t even come here to listen to what Tiwa had to say. She was just getting angrier by the moment and with every word Stella spoke, Tiwa was getting surer that the other lady had it all wrong.

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‘You ungrateful animal! I trained you! I showed you the ropes. I taught you the hacks, yet the moment you felt you had wings strong enough to fly, you went for my account. Just how low can someone go?! I should have known all of that gentleness and humility was for show! I swear, I fell for it. I thought you were of the good sort, but my account?’

‘Stella, I think you have it all mixed-’

‘Shut up, you fool! The courteous thing, no, scratch courtesy, apparently you don’t have a drop of that in your blood. The least you could have done was run whatever idea you had by me. Just, since how long have you been eyeing that account?’

Tiwa swallowed and took a deep breath. She was certain with absolute clarity, now that Stella was mistaken, but of course, she wasn’t going to listen to anything. She wasn’t there to listen to anything. She was there to vent and release her anger on her victim, one which in this case was guilty if Stella had her facts straight, but unfortunately, she was going at it with the wrong person. Just what did Stella hear to make her conclude that Tiwa was the one who was out to steal one of her accounts?

With a deep sigh, that looked calming, but one that Tiwa knew was certainly not, Stella cocked her head and said with a calmness that was betrayed by her clenched teeth. ‘Okay!’ She threw her hands up in surrender. ‘Get at it! If your proposal truly was great, then get at it! You can have it! Let’s see just how strong those wings are! Let’s see if novelty in this case really can beat experience! Let’s even see if the Yomi-Williamses will let anyone else oversee their account!’ With that, she walked out of Tiwa’s office which she shared with two other junior execs like her, but which was currently crowded by the onlookers that had come out to get a peep of Stella with her uncontrollable temper at it again.

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It felt as if the entire floor was hanging around the corridor to her office. As Stella walked out, the crowd dispersed – some to their offices and cubicles, while others hung around to eavesdrop on whatever explanation she might have to give about what had just gone down. But they had something else coming if they thought she was going to fuel their ever-running rumour mill. It wasn’t even as if she had anything to say. She was as uninformed as they were. The only thing she knew that they didn’t already know was that she was not the person Stella should have confronted.

Tiwa knew the Yomi-Williams account very well. It had been in Stella’s care since the family-owned business switched to their agency some years ago. It was one of Stella’s favourites and possibly her biggest. She was even like family to the Yomi-Williamses. Tiwa knew this because, throughout her eighteen months being trained by Stella, she had worked several times on the account with the older lady.

There was little wonder that Stella was so pained, Tiwa too would if she were in her shoes. She must have felt betrayed to overhear that someone she had trained and who had all the inside info there was to get about one of her biggest accounts was bidding for it. However, Tiwa’s explanation would hold no water if she didn’t have all the facts she needed before going back to Stella and she knew just where to find that info.

Tiwa quietly slid into the restroom and claimed one of the stalls before the lady washing her hand at the sink could see her. As she closed the door to the stall, she stayed close with her ear placed very close to the tiny space between the door and its hinge. This was her best chance of finding what she needed to know. For all she knew, this was probably where Stella got her half-information.

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She always wondered when the universal culture of using restrooms for things other than the original purposes began. Ladies, particularly, used it for a myriad of purposes that would shock the opposite gender. From de-stressing to covert crying, to gossip, to even verbal power-plays, you could find it in the restroom.

So, if there was a piece of information to find out, one just had to find the right timing and stake it out in a bathroom stall. And there was no better timing than now for this particular info especially as the issue was still very fresh. Besides, Stella was always hot news, maybe because she was the ladies’ enemy. Brilliant, mind-blowingly successful and hot-tempered.

‘Nawa for Stella o.’ A voice said as a door opened followed by the sound of rushing water. It seemed someone had joined the lady Tiwa saw at the sink when she came in.

The water stopped and another voice replied, ‘You sound as if it’s a new thing. Stella was just been Stella. Hot-headed, hot-tempered, foul-mouthed and way in over her head.’

‘But I’m surprised o. Tiwa did not look like someone who could be so sly. But she sure did show her true colours this time.’ The first voice commented. Tiwa took in a deep breath. Can someone who had the facts miraculously step out of a stall and demystify this issue?

‘Stella attacked the wrong girl.’ Oh, so, voice number 2 had the details. Tiwa released a breath of relief.

‘You can say that again, but then again, it wouldn’t be her first time attacking before thinking or getting her facts straight.’ This came from a third voice whose emergence from one of the toilet stalls was also announced by the soft gush of water at the sink.

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‘Are you serious? Oh, dear! Poor Tiwa.’ Voice 1 empathized. Tiwa couldn’t care less. What she needed was info and thank heaven it has come. Gossip on, ladies.

‘Tiwa? Ugh! Tiwa is too mild and S-U-ish to do that kind of thing.’ Voice 3 said clucking her tongue against the roof of her mouth. ‘Poor thing has no idea that in this industry, niceness will not get you anywhere, you have to be brutal.’

‘So, who is the real culprit?’ Voice 1 asked in a curiosity-laden tone.

Voice 2 replied, ‘I don’t know the details ooo but I overheard my boss discussing it with Mr Glover that it’s one newbie Stella trained. But it didn’t sound like it was Tiwa. I could tell it was someone else entirely.’

Ahn-ahn, what are you people saying? Tiwa is the only newbie Stella has trained recently nah.’ Voice 1 replied, her tone mirroring Tiwa’s confusion.

Voice 3 chuckled as she replied, ‘It’s not Tiwa. It’s Marietta.’

‘Jeez! Oh, my word! Why didn’t I think of it earlier? Of course, it is Marienetta!’ Voice 2 gushed.

‘Who is Mariene- Wait, that new senior exec? I know she is new but what has Stella got to with her?’ Voice 1 enquired. Looked like she was in the same boat with this lady. They were both missing something. Something that had dawned on the two other ladies with clarity.

‘Babe, it’s simple. Marietta is not exactly new. She came in about three years ago. Stella trained her and within a year, she was good to go. She was that good. She landed some very amazing accounts within her first six months of going solo and soon she was transferred to Abuja. Now she’s back and, of course, only we veterans know that she used to be Stella’s girl. But…’ Voice 3 trailed off probably to taunt Voice 1.

‘But what nau?’ Voice 1 whined.

‘You are evil, Imade.’ Voice 2 laughed.

Imade? Tiwa wondered as she tried to put a face with the very familiar name. Secretaries! Of course, they were secretaries! Who else had such inside info except for secretaries who overhead and saw the ins and outs of hot stuff like this?

‘But she hated Stella.’ Voice 3 finally finished. ‘I don’t know if Stella knew o, but I could tell. When she came to submit the proposal last week to my boss, as I excused them, because I was going through some stuff with him before she came, the only thing I heard before shutting the door as she dropped the file on his table was, “Yomi-Williams.” Immediately, I knew she was back to topple Stella’s empire.

Chai! This life!’ Voice 1 exclaimed.

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This life, indeed, Tiwa thought. She suddenly felt like some minor character in some soap opera. Her shoulders slumped as she sat back on the toilet lid waiting for the ladies to finish their gist and leave the restroom before she stepped out. She felt bad for Stella. She understood why any trainee would hate Stella, she also had her moments of resentment while she was still under the older woman. But she knew 95% of Stella’s problem was her temper and how impossible it seemed for her to control it. If you take that out, Stella was one of the most amazing women anyone could ever have the pleasure of meeting. She’d taught Tiwa all she knew and she had no doubt she’d done the same for this Marietta.

Unfortunately, it was hard to separate Stella from her temper. It was the first thing you think of before you think of how talented she was. It was her identification throughout the office complex and being her trainee, Tiwa had been on the receiving end of more cases of transferred aggression than she could count, not to talk of the ones originally directed at her.

Apparently, one former trainee had made it her mission to take all that belonged to her former evil boss. Tiwa’s heart broke at the thought of what she knew what many others didn’t know and that was the fact that Stella loathed her temper as much as everyone else. She’d walked in on many post-temper-fit situations to find her boss fighting frustrated tears at her failure to control her temper yet again. She’d been praying for her but somehow nothing changed. That was not the point though, what mattered was that she now knew the truth and she could go talk to Stella now.

With a sigh, she walked out of the stall only to find Stella bowed over a sink. The sight was one of defeat and Tiwa’s heart broke some more. When did she come in? Or… Had she been here all along? Did she hear all the ladies said?

Stella raised her head and shook it as she smiled tremulously at Tiwa. ‘Of course, you are here too. You were probably so confused by my outburst that you came to get the facts for yourself.’

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Tiwa just stood at her spot, unsure of what to say for a few seconds and then shrugged as she decided to let her tongue loose. If she was going to get through to this woman, she would need to rise to the challenge and deal head-on with the situation for once. ‘And you were probably here to cry after another outburst.’

Stella’s head whipped on her neck to face Tiwa. Her eyes were wide. Tiwa could understand her surprise. She’d never been so brazen with her, not even since the three months since she’d gone solo.

Tiwa sighed as she realised how that must have sounded. One former trainee was out for the boss and another was beginning to act up but that wasn’t her intention. She just wanted to have an honest conversation with Stella. It felt like that was what was missing, she’d been doing a lot of praying, but she’d never ventured to speak to the older lady.

‘Stella, I just wanted you to know that I don’t resent you.’ Tiwa said as she ventured closer.

‘How could you not? Are you an angel or something?’ Stella replied with a straight face as she washed her hands under running water.

‘I don’t know why. I just don’t resent you.’ Tiwa replied, shrugging. ‘Maybe because I know a sweet side of you that many others don’t-’ Stella halted in her motions and Tiwa knew she had her attention. ‘Or maybe because I know that you hate your temper too.’ At this point, Stella continued washing and Tiwa sighed.

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When the older lady turned off the faucet, she turned to Tiwa as she dried her hands with some toilet paper. ‘Are you pitying me now? Don’t.’

Tiwa sighed as she watched her drop the used paper in a bin and walk towards the door. Why was she making this so hard? Tiwa turned and watched Stella walk away but suddenly said as the latter placed her hand on the doorknob. ‘What would happen if Marienetta gets the Yomi-Williams account?’

Stella halted and turned to face Tiwa with a slight tilt of her lips. One could mistake it for a small smile but Tiwa knew better. ‘Well, if she gets it, she’ll be excited. Her morale will rise. Her drive will be fueled and then she’ll come for more until I’m left to go scurrying for new accounts like a junior exec.’

Before she could turn back to the door, Tiwa asked, ‘And you’ll just let her?’

Stella exhaled heavily as she folded her arms across her midriff. ‘Tiwa, she’ll get it if she has better ideas. It’s just the way it works. I know it may sound evil and of course, it hurts, but in truth, there are no rules against it. You see, it shouldn’t have to happen and it seldom does but I have made – no, scratch that, I have trained a formidable enemy and now she’s back with a revenge plan. Unfortunately, I can’t even convince her to consider a rethink because the actual reason she hates me is something I cannot help. Obviously, having seen that I haven’t changed one bit, she’s convinced I deserve to be ruined.’

‘But you can help it. You can overcome it.’ Tiwa insisted.

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Stella chuckled mirthlessly. ‘Tiwa, when I look at you I think of all things good, innocent, kind and nice, but my dear, you need to see what is standing right in front of you, not what you choose to see. That sweet side you mentioned, that’s not me. This hot-tempered, hot-headed and foul-mouthed side everyone knows? That’s the real me. I can’t help it. It’s been my personality since forever. It’s deeply engraved in my fundamental make-up and I’ve learnt to deal with it. I’ve accepted it. It has been the bane of everything good in my life, including my marriage, and now, my job, but even that cannot be helped. It’s my Achilles heel, I cannot disown it. Tiwa, thanks for caring. On a day like this, after everything you have heard and experienced, you shouldn’t be doing this but you are and I thank you. But you shouldn’t worry about me. I have always handled myself and I will keep handling myself. You, on the other hand, need to toughen up and land some major accounts. You’ve been playing with peanuts. I don’t produce mediocre executives, Tiwa. Aim higher!’ Then she turned and turned the doorknob.

‘Have you tried prayer?’ Tiwa quickly asked hoping she’d halt again and listen to what she had to say. Thankfully, she did.

‘Are you implying I have a spiritual problem?’ She asked with narrowed eyes.

Tiwa shook her head vigorously, gesticulating with her hands too. ‘No, no, no! I didn’t mean that. The thing is, prayer is not just for spiritual problems. It’s for everything happening in one’s life. I know you aren’t religious and I’m not trying to make you religious but wouldn’t you try one last thing if it would work.’

Stella simply cocked her head at Tiwa, a motion Tiwa read as “go on.” And she launched into her explanation.

‘There’s this part of the bible that asked a seemingly hopeless question. This question seemed so hopeless not only because of its content but also because there was no answer for it. It was a rhetoric that spelt hopelessness. It asked, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” You know how that sounds right? One might as well paraphrase it as, “If the foundations are destroyed, not even the righteous can do anything about it.” It brings to mind the hopelessness in your tone when you talked about your volatile temper being a part of your fundamental make-up. But you see, that question was not hopeless after all because, in another part of the Bible, it was answered. Not directly, but it did show that the righteous are never hopeless or helpless. It said, “The effectual fervent prayer of the righteous man avails much.”

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Two things assured Tiwa that she was getting through to Stella because if her words were not making sense to the older woman, the Stella she knew would have walked out. More so, the way Stella stood still with her arms folded across her midriff let her know she had the older woman where she wanted her.

‘Stella, this means that though the average person might not be able to get rid of a fundamental problem, the righteous are not so helpless because their prayers work. A righteous person’s prayer is as vast as the God that answers that prayer. And I’ll have you know that what God cannot do does not exist. Furthermore, there is what we call the fruit of the Spirit. It consists of traits that are found in genuine Christians that makes them identifiable as real children of God. One of them, particularly the last on the list of nine is temperance, otherwise known as self-control. Thus, upon becoming righteous, the nature that informs this volatile temper is exchanged for the nature of Christ and it is the nature of Christ that brings forth the fruit of the Spirit which will give you that much-elusive handle on your temper.’ Tiwa swallowed as she watched the play of emotions on her boss’ usually-stoic face. If there was a play of emotions, it meant she was at least considering her words, right?

‘So what do you propose?’ Stella finally asked after a few moments of silence between them.

Eureka! Tiwa barely kept in her joy. ‘I propose you make the exchange. Exchange your current hopeless and helpless nature for the enabling nature of Christ. Exchange your current status for a place among the righteous whose prayers count and can solve foundational problems. It’s a good deal. And trying it would not hurt any.’

Another few seconds of silence that stretched longer than the last ensued, and finally, Stella nodded her head and replied, ‘Show me how.’

Tiwa released a breath she didn’t know she was holding. She was so happy she almost jumped and throw a fist. If Stella said she was ready, Tiwa knew it meant she had made up her mind. Stella was just that kind of person. She was either in or out and she always knew what she wanted and went all for it once she made up her mind. As she led her boss to Christ, however, she saw how salvation could rob even the most stoic of people of their defences. Halfway through the prayer, Stella broke down in tears and that was the most vulnerable Tiwa had ever seen her. This beat even the most emotional of her post-temper-fit regret episodes. By the time they finished, Tiwa couldn’t mistake the pure joy that shined through Stella’s teary eyes. It was so beautiful.

A few minutes later, Stella freshened up her face and Tiwa reached for the door as they both made to leave the restroom but someone on the other side beat her to it and the door opened. Tiwa was glad they were done. She would have hated to be interrupted had it been a few seconds earlier.

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It was Marietta who stepped in. As soon as she sighted Stella, a smug smirk that annoyed Tiwa distorted her lips. Both ladies stared at each other for a few seconds and Tiwa just prayed under her breath that Stella wouldn’t lose her temper. This was what was going to prove that Jesus was the answer to her problem.

As Tiwa expected of the vicious Marienetta she had painted in her mind, the other lady spoke. ‘You know if this morning’s episode ad not happened, seeing you here looking so calm after what you’ve heard about the Yomi-Williams account would have convinced me that you have changed. But of course, you threw one of your infamous tantrums just about forty minutes ago, so, certainly not. So, start already. Do what you do best, Stella. We both know you can’t help it.’

Tiwa had expected this but the degree of viciousness startled her. Of course, just like her, Marietta knew Stella could not help her temper and here she was deliberately trying to get a rise out of her. Who does that?

To Tiwa’s surprise and utmost joy, however, Stella simply laughed and asked as she turned to Tiwa. ‘Tiwa, what just happened? She’s right, you know? Merely seeing her should have me burning with rage and brimming with the worst words in my vocabulary to hurl at her. But-’ She turned back to Marietta, ‘-I can’t seem to work up some fury.’ Tiwa’s joy flowed out as a chuckle.

Marietta wore a look of confusion that distorted her features as she asked, ‘What’s going on here?’ Then she turned to Tiwa. ‘And you, aren’t you the same girl she went off at less than an hour ago? Don’t tell me you haven’t broken off from her bossy yoke. My dear, you are now a so-’

‘Marie.’ Stella called, interrupting Marietta.

‘It’s Marietta to you.’ Marietta retorted.

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‘Fine, works for me. But leave Tiwa alone. She is of a breed you’ll never be able to figure out. You just don’t have it in you.’ Tiwa couldn’t help her smile. ‘Stop going off at the wrong girl just because you can’t get the reaction you want out of me. Of course, you’re right, what could have happened within an hour? Nonetheless, you’re just about five minutes late to get the kind of rise you expect out of me. And I won’t hold the surprise marring your features right now against you because I am also surprised.’

‘Have you finally lost it? What are you going on about?’ Marietta asked, apparently flustered at Stella’s calmness.

‘Good question but I can’t exactly give you the details as I am also just getting to understand it. However, I want to say thank you.’ Tiwa almost gasped in surprise but Marietta didn’t hide her surprise as well as Tiwa did hers. It was all over her face. So much that Tiwa wanted to laugh.

‘For the past few years, I’ve had my hands full with some of our biggest accounts so much that I’ve missed the thrill of a real bidding challenge. Having you back and gunning for my account not only has me brimming with pride that I’ve trained a formidable opponent who believes she’s good enough to do better with what I’ve worked on for years, but it also has my competitive streak rising. So, thank you for the challenge. May the best executive win!’

Tiwa wanted to whoop at Stella’s brilliant finish. It was like a real showdown except that Marienetta was too shocked to give any comeback. Before she could recover from her shock, Stella beckoned on Tiwa and they both walked out of the restroom.

As Tiwa shut the door behind them, Stella turned to her with wide eyes and asked, ‘What’s happening to me?’

Tiwa smiled and replied, ‘If any man is in Christ, old things are passed away, behold, all things have become new. You are a living testimony of that scriptural truth.’

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‘Oh, my word!’ This is real, I now have a handle on my emotions. I can’t believe this!’ Stella appeared the most excited Tiwa had ever seen her.

‘Going forward, prayer should be your new best activity. It is the only way you can retain what you’ve got. I know you love reading. I’ll forward a few books that’d help you get started.’ Tiwa finished and was rewarded with something she could have never imagined getting from Stella. A hug! A real bear hug!

‘Thank you so much, Tiwa. Thank you for not cowering out of this good deed. Thank you for showing me this path. I am indebted to you.’

‘I only did the Saviour’s bidding. I am glad you saw the sense in it. I’m glad you are free!’ And Stella did what Tiwa had been itching to do. She whooped!