Blooms Among Thorns

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Chapter 8

The grad school alumni in the United Kingdom were holding their annual reunion. Pro-Touch was in its tenth month when Imade received the invitation to attend the event. She was thrilled at the thought.

‘I think I can afford the trip,’ she told Tara. ‘It would be good to catch up with my old classmates and I can use the opportunity to look out for new interior decorations for Pro-Touch. Do you think you could take charge while I’m away?’

‘Of course,’ Tara replied. ‘I could even keep any eye on Ehis for you.’

The thought alarmed Imade. ‘No!’ she replied, before realizing that she had snapped. Allowing Tara near Ehis in her absence meant Dapo would have access to him as well and she couldn’t let that happen. Sure, Ehis got to be around Tara whenever he was at the office, but only under his mother’s watchful eye; Imade wouldn’t have it any other way. ‘I mean, you don’t have to do that. My mum will take care of him.’

‘I only wanted to help,’ Tara said quietly.

Imade pouted. Any assistance Tara had to render should be directed at Pro-Touch and not at her son. While she was away, she would keep her business venture in Tara’s care and her son in Iye’s care, being careful not to mix the two. ‘I know you do,’ she replied. ‘Thank you, but I already made other plans for him.’

Tara bit her lip and looked at her queerly. It was obvious that Imade hadn’t let go of all the resentment she harbored against Dapo. That was a good thing, wasn’t it?

‘Go ahead and enjoy yourself,’ she said. ‘Pro-Touch is in good hands.’

~~~~

Imade hadn’t had so much fun in a long time. The alumni committee gave her a fifteen minute slot to speak at the reunion. Representing Uncle Marcus’ thoughts, she modestly explained how Pro-Touch came to be and urged those still struggling to find jobs to start out with something, no matter how small.

‘It’s amazing how doors open when you put your hands to the plough,’ she concluded. Her audience was impressed and by the time she finished speaking, she was standing tall.

Back home, Tara held the fort. The ‘ember’ months ushered in a festive season as well as an upsurge in demand for their services. The high rate of bookings was a good sign and her hands were kept full. When Imade arrived in the country a month later, she was surprised at the progress Tara had made. She was even more surprised to find a new hire at the office.

‘Things got so busy around here, I just had to bring someone in,’ Tara explained. ‘I put up a vacancy announcement and got fifty responses in all. Helen seemed to be the most competent of the lot.’

‘Well, I guess we would have had to hire an extra hand eventually,’ Imade replied unsurely.

Tara nodded. ‘Helen is an angel. Her coming has really eased the workload.’ She leaned forward and whispered mischievously. ‘I can tell you that I’m not the only who’s happy to have her here. Gaius, the admin manager next door, seems to like her a lot. I’m just afraid she might not stay. The pay is small and she’s ambitious. I overhead her telling Gaius that this job was a stepping stone to something bigger.’

‘What about you?’ Imade asked, feeling more concerned for Tara than Helen. The few weeks she had been away made it clear how wonderful Tara was at Pro-Touch. It would be good to have her around over the long term. ‘Are you planning to stay?’

Tara was silent for a minute. She came to Pro-Touch with her own agenda, but God caught her in the process. ‘Come,’ the preacher called out, at the last Sunday service. The conviction was so strong, she couldn’t hold back.

‘Something happened while you were away,’ she said, suddenly overcome with emotion. ‘I became a woman of like precious faith with you.’

It was the best news Imade had heard in a long time. ‘I knew it,’ she exclaimed, reaching out to hug her. ‘I knew God wanted to touch you. I just didn’t know when or how.’

Tara nodded. ‘He definitely touched me,’ she replied. ‘And of course, I’d like to stay with Pro-Touch.’

‘Good. We’ll review your commission arrangement. It’s time we put you on a regular salary. I think you deserve it.’

~~~~

Helen, the new hire at Pro-Touch, came into the office early in the morning with an unexpected announcement. She dropped her bag on the table and without bothering to sign in, went over to Tara.

‘May I speak with you for a minute?’ she asked. She had barely rested her back on the chair when she burst into tears. Tara was taken aback. She got up from where she sat and went towards her.

‘Helen!’ she exclaimed. ‘What is it? What is wrong?’

Helen related how she had just received a call from her home town. Her mother was sick and had sent for her. Tara squeezed her hand comfortingly and handed the sobbing girl the roll of tissue paper on her desk.

‘I’m sorry about this, madam.’ Helen said with a sniffle. ‘I know it’s a busy week but I don’t know what else to do.’

It was true. It was early December and Pro-Touch had never been so busy. Numerous end-of-year activities were taking place all over town and their services were fully booked for the week. They needed as many hands as they could muster. Tara hadn’t anticipated that Helen would be called away so suddenly. At the risk of sounding insensitive, she tried to persuade her not to leave at once.

‘Is it very serious?’ she asked. ‘Could you delay your trip for a few days, just until we’ve cleared out our events for this week?’

Helen shook her head. From the news she received, her mother was in a very bad shape. She feared that if she didn’t hurry home immediately she might be too late.

Tara nodded. ‘I understand. Of course you must go. You must leave at once.’

She reached for her bag and searched through it. There wasn’t much cash in it, but she gathered all the money she could find, put it into an envelope and handed it to Helen. She would have to borrow some money to get home when Imade came in later that day.

‘It’s not much,’ she said. ‘But it should cover your transportation needs, and you should have a little left over to buy drugs for her if necessary.’

Helen thanked her and went to tidy her desk. She arranged the documents that belonged to Pro-Touch on the table and packed her personal items into a bag. It didn’t take her long to set everything in order and within an hour, she was ready to go.

‘I shouldn’t be away too long,’ she said, pausing at the entrance of the door. ‘I hope everything returns to normal as soon as possible and then I’ll be back in the office in no time.’

‘No problem. Take good care of your mother and give her my regards.’

By the time Imade arrived at the office, Helen had left. Tara explained to her about the emergency. ‘What do I do now?’ she lamented. ‘We have two events coming up the day after tomorrow. Helen was supposed to oversee one while I handled the other. You have a meeting that day with a potential client. We might have to cancel some of the events.’

‘And ruin our reputation?’ Imade asked. ‘Impossible! I’ll see to Helen’s job. I guess I’ll just have to put my own meeting on hold, after all, a bird in hand in worth two in the bush.’

~~~~

It was a week since Helen travelled home. Her phone remained switched off and no one had heard from her. Imade was worried. They were hoping she would call to let them know how she and her mother were doing, but up till now they hadn’t received any news.

‘I hope she made it safely and everything is alright,’ she told Tara. ‘I can’t imagine why she didn’t send us any message.’

The office phone rang as they were discussing and Imade answered it. ‘That might be her right now,’ she said hopefully.

It wasn’t Helen, but Habiba, a fast rising music artiste and one of their most recent customers. Pro-Touch had just handled the launch of her new album. She was calling to tell them how impressed she was with their services. It was the event Helen was to have overseen, but Imade had jumped in at short notice when she was called away.

‘My guests had the time of their lives,’ Habiba said proudly. Imade smiled, thankful that her last minute intervention had worked out well, adding to her growing list of satisfied customers.

‘I’ve made the balance payment into your account.’ Habiba concluded, beaming as she spoke through the phone.

Imade wasn’t aware that any such payment had been made, so Habiba offered to fax a copy of the teller. When she picked up the faxed teller from Uncle Marcus’ office, Imade noticed that both the account name and number to which the payment had been made were incorrect.

‘Habiba sent in the wrong teller,’ she told Tara. ‘Could you call her back to let her know?’

Tara took a look at the teller and immediately knew what was wrong. ‘This payment was made out to Helen,’ she pointed out. ‘That’s her middle name right there. She must have asked Habiba to pay the money into her account.’

‘Why would she do that?’ Imade asked. ‘She never mentioned that she collected any payments.’

Tara scratched her forehead. ‘I better do some double checks.’

She called the second client, whose event she had handled the same day as Habiba’s. The gentleman was surprised when Tara asked about his payment. ‘Helen has already been here to collect the cash,’ he explained. ‘I have the receipt she issued to me right here.’

Tara swallowed hard. She thanked him and hurriedly dropped the line. ‘Something is fishy,’ she said, turning to Imade. ‘It seems money has been changing hands without our knowledge.’

They tried to make sense of it all. Maybe it was the trauma of her mother’s ill health that made Helen so forgetful. The phone rang again. The woman on the line introduced herself, but neither Imade nor Tara could recall her name. Unlike Habiba, this client wasn’t happy.

‘What’s going on?’ she demanded. ‘My luncheon starts by 12 noon. You promised to complete the decorations overnight. I get to the events center this morning and the whole place is bare.’

‘Madam,’ Imade replied, extremely confused. ‘Please calm down. I don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about.’

The woman exhaled heavily into the phone. ‘Helen was here with me yesterday. She promised to have the hall ready when I came in this morning.’

Helen again! Imade couldn’t believe what she was hearing. ‘Did you say she was there with you yesterday?’

‘Yes, and she demanded full payment for your services. It was against my better judgment, but I obliged her and now nothing has been done.’

Imade opened and closed her mouth repeatedly. She wanted to say something but no words came out.

‘You better get down here and perform a miracle,’ the woman snapped. ‘I want this place transformed in the next three hours.’

The line went dead before Imade found her voice again. ‘Tara, what on earth is going on?’ she demanded.

‘I’m just as lost as you are,’ a distraught Tara replied.

‘The lady said Helen was with her yesterday. That girl didn’t travel anywhere. She’s in town and she’s duping us right under our noses!’

Tara stared at her, lost for words. ‘We must find her,’ Imade said, grabbing her purse and rushing to the door. ‘I’ll go and see this woman immediately. Find her Tara, before she does any more damage.’

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