Shata Anele couldn’t decide what to wear to the commendation service of the man whose shoes he was stepping into as Chief Financial Officer at Edozie Express. Going by what he had been told, and comments he picked up in meetings and conversations around the office and elsewhere since his arrival in Yenagoa, home to the imposing edifice housing the head office operations of EE, they were incredibly large shoes to walk in. And though he wouldn’t admit it to himself, let alone to another soul, Shata was apprehensive about what impression to make at his first and very important, yet solemn official outing in that capacity.
The problem about his fashion pick for the day, though, wasn’t that he didn’t have what to wear, far from it. His real challenge was that he didn’t wish to stand out for the reason only that he was dressed differently from everybody else.
Regrettably though, as a result of the unintended connivance between his driver, Elder Iniebong Isaac and the rather cheeky and over confident tailor he met through him, Abramovich Stitches, Shata was concerned he would stand out at the funeral like a tuber of yam in a basket full of bananas.
From boyhood, he was the kind of person that planned things way in advance. To the amazement and often times annoyance of family members, he would lay out his cloths for Sunday church service as early as Tuesday evening. Whenever there was a family trip, his bags were packed weeks, sometimes even months before the departure date. Shata hated it when things took a turn that made him look unserious and ill-prepared. It unsettled him to the point where he took it out on the people around him and became contrarious.
But on this occasion, Shata knew that crying over spilt milk wasn’t going to change anything or remedy what was a very bad situation. With great difficulty, he refrained from ripping into Elder Iniebong for introducing him to an amateur tailor when there was bound to be a number of really good ones scattered across the city.
The first red flag that popped up when Iniebong brought the tailor to his office three days earlier was seeing how the well-dressed young man spelt the word ‘trouser’ in his notebook. He put a ‘z’ and an ‘a’ after the ‘u’ instead of ending with the letters ‘s,’ ‘e,’ and ‘r.’ And when he said the word out loud, Shata thought he heard him say ‘trawja’, which was strange judging by how polished he looked.
And then Abramovich Stitches made him stand up four times from his seat to take and retake his measurement because he kept forgetting to write it down immediately. At that point Shata was prepared to ask the guy to leave his office because he couldn’t trust his ability to deliver, but he restrained himself knowing that he couldn’t send the fabric to his own tailor in Abuja and have it back in time for the funeral. The final straw though was when he was told the cost of making a simple kaftan. His head almost exploded from the anger and shock of what he heard and he spoke up immediately in protest.
“My friend, this amount you’re demanding for one outfit, is what my tailor in Abuja would collect to make three of this type. Sometimes he even uses his own material and still I don’t pay him this much.”
“Oga, but you know say na Yenagoa you dey now. You no dey Abuja again oh. In case you never hear, everything for this town dey very expensive because na we get all the oil for this country and all the oil money when dem dey share for Abuja na here dem suppose dey.”
“So if the oil money is being shared in Abuja, why should the cost of sewing something as simple as what I described to you be this high?” Shata couldn’t wrap his head around the tailor’s logic.
“But sir, make you also remember say na express you say make I do for you oh.”
“Is that why you want me to finish all the money I brought from Abuja on just one burial cloth?”
“Oga, no be like that. You na big boy na, e dey show for your body.”
“How?” Shata asked, but that particular question wasn’t answered.
“See ehn, you sabi say light never dey for most parts of Yenagoa for almost one month now. Na generator we dey use steady take work for here and fuel too dey very costly. That one sef, if you no carry jerrycan dem no go sell for you for filling station.”
“But I’m not the reason for the blackout in your area, neither am I OPEC that fixes the price of oil, so why take it out on me?”
“Baba, no be like that aeeeee. Because of say this your work dey urjent small, I gats leave my other customer dem work and face your own squarely.”
“I can’t pay that much for one cloth, I’m sorry.” Shata insisted.
“Oga, everything when this my guy talk na truth,” Elder Iniebong interjected. “We never get light for we area for some time now.”
Elder Iniebong jumping in rather abruptly in defence of his tailor friend should have been another red flag but somehow Shata missed it.
“So because of that he wants me to give him seventy percent of the money upfront. What if he fails to deliver?”
“If na that one oga, make you no fear. I know say I still dey young oh, but dem no dey call me Elder for nothing. See this guy when I bring come your office so, na the same church me and him dey go. Even sef na him dey sew all the things when our senior pastor dey wear take preach on Sundays.”
“Yes oh! And na still the same me when introduce am to our pastor and him wife. In fact, na him also dey sew correct things for all the other junior pastors and their wives.”
Because he didn’t have much of a choice, Shata negotiated the advance payment from seventy to twenty-five percent. He paid in cash and demanded a receipt, but Abramovich Stitches said he left his receipt booklet in his shop because he was in a hurry to make the appointment. That should have been another red flag, but again Shata missed.
“Now that you’ve been mobilised, how will I know when it is ready? You know I still need to take it to the laundry to have it properly cleaned and ironed when you are done.”
“I go give am to Elder when I finish. Him place no too far from my own. Na walking distance.”
“Sir, as long as I dey involved, him go deliver. Trust me oga, from this evening I don begin to dey bombard him phone with calls. As long as I still be elder for church, my guy no go disappoint you.”
“It is not just about delivering on time. What he delivers has to be perfect. It has to be done neatly and no mistakes, please.”
“Baba, me I no dey make mistake like that oh. I get taste well well, that na why dem dey call me Versace for we area. Even sef when I finish the work and you see am with your eye, I no say with your own Christian mind you go add money on top wetin we agree.”
But seeing the finished work delivered by Iniobong, Shata wanted to ask for his money back, and get the tailor arrested for wasting the fabric and placing him in such a tight corner.
Because of Abramovich Stitches’ ineptitude, Shata was not going to be wearing the red, blue and black ankara fabric selected by the women in the office as the official uniform for staff of Edozie Express. He would be the odd one out.
He could explain all he wanted that the tailor from his voluble driver made a mess of what should have been a simple short sleeve knee length embroidered kaftan and pants, but would they believe him? In what was an apparent disregard of the measurement he wrote down in his notebook, with his own hands, Abramovich or Versace or whatever he called himself cut the fabric into a funny-looking asymmetrical shaped sleeveless tunic he couldn’t get over his head without reaping it up. And that was only the top. As for the ‘trawja,’ they stopped somewhere between his ankles and knees so it was hard for Shata to tell if they were intended as sleep cloths or something he could wear out without being laughed at.
Shata wasn’t pleased that he might come across as proud and standoffish in the very first gathering of his new bosses and colleagues. In all of the places he worked before joining EE, he was typically a people’s person. That was the side of him he wanted the people in his new office to see. He had other sides too, but his strategy was to reveal more of himself only if it was necessary and when the need arose.