It had been 15 minutes already.
Dominique, a 30-something year old woman was sitting in a car parked in front of a building. Behind her, traffic was not quieting down and in front of her security was getting busy with visitors.
She had been sitting there for 15 whole minutes, starring at the neon sign of the building she was just about to enter. The building itself seemed very new. It was situated at the heart of Akwa, a business neighborhood of Douala. Signs of the building’s last life were still visible and any non-local would even be able to tell you that it used to be a hotel. Atop of it and plastered across a few balconies were a sign with the name of the company owning the repurposed hotel nowadays: Television France-Afrique. It was accompanied by a logo grouping the acronym “TFA”.
Dominique looked at the time on her phone. After deciding she had waited enough, she decided to come out. As soon as she did, she was hit by the first rays of sun she had felt in a long time. It took her a few seconds to get acclimated to the heat and she was already cursing having to leave her car. Armed with her handbag, she walked towards the entrance with conviction, her dreadlocks waiving as she walked.
She walked with purpose, as if she was trying to make something happens. The security guards did not stop her or even bothered opening the door, but she didn’t mind. To them she was just another visitor, no need to act formal.
In the lobby, she saw many people just buzzing around, all their eyes focused on their phones, no one noticing her passing through. It took the receptionist a few seconds to react to her going straight to the elevators and call security on her.
Dominique didn’t even bother to turn. Behind her, the receptionist and a security guard were catching up to her. As she stopped in front of the elevator so did her pursuers. The receptionist seems angry.
At the same moment, the elevator opened behind Dominique with the usual *DING* it is well-known for. A young woman, Annie, came out of it. she was 25 but looked much younger. She barely had the time to assess the situation when she seemed to recognize Dominique.
Ignoring the receptionist, she gave Dominique a badge attached to a lanyard. In addition to the picture, “GENERAL MANAGER” was written so big it was covering most of the badge. As soon as she wore the badge she se turned to the receptionist. This one just stood there, not knowing if she still had time to apologize before getting fired. Behind her, the guard was equally nervous.
But Dominique didn’t seem to be hearing him or even knowing he was there. She was looking beyond them, back into the lobby. Then she started walking. A few seconds later she stopped in front of the receptionist desk, followed but a very worried Annie and the other two. She waited a few seconds to see if the crowd was going to notice her, in vain. She cleared her throat.
No one cared.
The security guard behind her blew a whistle that seemed to have come from nowhere. Everybody, including Dominique, turned to him in shock. Her ears were still ringing.
Then, with a mix of curiosity and anxiety, the entire crowd turned to Dominique. That was more than she had asked. As she was trying to formulate her first sentence, she got all of the sudden dizzy. She tried to take deep breaths but with every breath she could feel the sweat pearling down her shirt. It was making her whole body shaking in discomfort. A tap on the shoulder from the security guard made her realized that barely 5 seconds had passed. She thought about how much she needed to find a better antiperspirant.
She looked at the crowd again, closed her eyes to focus, then delivered the first line still in pitch black.
The crowd just looked at her, silent.
Everyone in the lobby looked confused. Andre tried to respond but was stopped by Annie.
A timid hand made its way up on her left.
A young man stood up and pointed to a clock on the far right.
She winced. She didn’t like that the nickname had already stuck.
There was a general mumble of agreement in the hall.
She could hear many gasps throughout her speech, but no one had moved yet. She got a little annoyed so her toned became a little more threatening.
As soon as they realized she was serious, more than half the people started rushing to the elevators and the stairs. As the lobby was emptying, she looked at those who remained.
She turned to the receptionist.
Leading the way, Annie walked Dominique to the elevators where many people were still waiting to get in. all three elevators were gone and just as they reached the doors for the middle one, they opened.
She led Dominique in and entered behind her. At this point, the employees tucked in the lobby were not hiding their anger anymore. She could read it all on their faces, yet no one talked. The doors closed on them and Dominique felt a huge relief, like the doors had cut a string that was attached to her pulling on the palpable tension as she was walking by. She leaned on the back of the elevator for a moment. Then came back up, as if ready to face the next battle. In front of her, Annie was waiting for an opening.
The two women were face to face, with Dominique a few inches taller, but Annie was not displaying the same anxiety as he colleagues did. Dominique could tell she was good at her job with a single look. Her posture and the tone in her voice showed that she was competent and was used to dealing with people outranking her. Not a bad skill for someone in television.
Dominique was carefully listening as the next few hours of her life was being lain down. Her phone buzzed inside her handbag and she pulled it out. On it, a message window had popped up. “Fired anyone yet?” it read. The sender, only named by two words “N B” apparently knew her better than she thought. For a second, she smiled and texted him back: “Not yet”.
As the elevator opened again with the familiar but annoying sound, she followed Annie through a maze of hallways. As if she could hear Dominique’s silent concerns, she explained.
They finally arrived at the door of the conference room. Annie opened the doors for her then followed her in. Inside were a big round table with six chairs. All but one were used. She guessed that’s where she was going to be seated. The table and chairs and small committee were on a stage in front of what felt like a thousand people. She knew it couldn’t be but she couldn’t escape the feeling that there was actually a thousand people about to watch her talk. She immediately felt sick.
She walked to her chair but didn’t sit down, instead looking for a wall with a clock on it. she quickly found one.
She turned to Annie who was shadowing her from two steps behind, spoke into her ears and Annie immediately left towards the crowd. This one had fell silent as soon as Dominique entered. They were clearly waiting on their sentence. Annie came back from where she had disappeared in the crowd and nodded at Dominique.
People were getting confused in the room.
The following minutes were filled with angry barfs and under breath cursing. Still standing up, Dominique waited until the last one of them was out before seating.
She could now focus on the people seating at the table. Four men and a woman. The men were all around 50 and looked like they had a particular bond with each other. By the way they were seating, she could tell that they were still conversing seconds before she entered the room. On the other hand, the lady was sitting on the left alone. But she didn’t seem to mind. She must have been in her mid-60s Dominique thought. But that’s all she could read on her. None of them had any visible badge on them so she first asked for their names and department.
Then, all the man continued in a clockwise turn.
Madam Nko remained calm as the presentations were happening, her greyish hair worn in a ponytail, she kept her eyes on Dominique as if to analyze her reactions. Mr. Onana was dressed like he was refusing to let the past go. His hair had gone full grey and the wrinkles on his face could show he hadn’t acquired just from old age. As soon as she heard the name, Dominique wondered what kind of relationship Mr. and Mrs. Nko could have. But this was only her first day, she had time to find out later, without turning it into an embarrassing moment for them or what she was most afraid of, for her. His bald head seemed to be the only thing remarkable about him. Mr. Ellong on the other hand, looked like someone who had just hit 40 and was not accepting he was that old yet. He was wearing the equivalent of what young people find cool these days: Jean Destroy a t-shirt and a jacket.
Mr. Fotso didn’t look like anything at all she had heard from him, bald with glasses and beard, he actually looked like the one who was taking care of himself the most. A button-up shirt and a tie made him look much more professional than the rest of the table.
They all looked at her without interrupting. She tried as much as possible to lock eyes with each of them at least 3 times but with 5 people, it wasn’t an easy task.
She was interrupted by someone’s phone ringing. She was about to say something when she felt her phone vibrate too. She went for it and the message read: “Can you confirm?” from NB. She didn’t answer but as soon as she put her phone away, she could sense the others’ eyes on her.
Before he could utter a word, the door behind them opened abruptly. Annie came in, closely followed by a man out of breath. The committee all turned to him and gave him a few seconds to catch up his breath. Dominique started to be very pissed about these interruptions. But before she could say anything again, she was interrupted by Mr. Fotso.
The news shocked everyone in the room, all the men stood up in horror while Mrs. Nko fainted. As Dominique was trying to process the weight of that statement, she once again felt all eyes on her. Then the worried voice of Mr. Fotso pierced through her bubble.
To be continued…