Literary Zone

Short story: An encounter from the past

13 April 2020 at 12:36 | 1942 views

An encounter from the past

By Koyie Mansaray, Freetown, Sierra Leone

On graduating from the university, Henry John was very hopeful. He was very hopeful that he would clinch a well-paid job in just a few months’ time. Having completed a major in Accounting and English as his minor, he was optimistic that the job market would soon have something positive for him on offer. However, for Henry John, like hundreds, if not thousands of other university graduates, jobs were hard to come by.

The shrinking of the job market could be blamed squarely on the outbreak of the Rebel War in his country, Manurivia Republic. As the civil armed conflict spread from district to district, the non-governmental organizations that had opened up various activities dealing with community development, scaled down their operations considerably. In the worst hit areas, the expatriate staff simply left the country in droves. Thus the local job market shrank to the lowest minimum.

Henry John did not give up hope. He, at first, used to buy the local newspapers and went through all the advertisements. He found no job that suited his profile and training. Next, he resorted to browsing the Internet, in search of job openings posted on several websites.

After what appeared to be an endless period of searching, he saw a suitable job opening, advertised in one of the websites. However, the job location was in another African country. Henry John was desperate for a job. He was therefore ready to take any risk in order to achieve his aim. He had never been overtly adventurous. But he was prepared to take this first chance. He therefore applied for the vacant position and waited.

It was exactly after a month that he received the good news that he had been short-listed for the position of Disbursement Officer of the Danish Refugee Council. In addition, the Human Resource Department of DRC sent him a return ticket to enable him attend the interview at the Danish Refugee Council Regional Headquarters in Nabi, in the Republic of Zankaria.

As he filled the form declaring his willingness and availability to attend the interview, John thought to himself that, indeed, things had started getting better.

Henry John did not know the city of Nabi. He ,however, knew David, a young Zankarian student who came to do a one-year refresher course in English at John’s university, in the Department of English and Literature. He then quickly consulted his little note book. It was in this note book that John kept addresses and other valuable details about acquaintances he had made over the years. He was able to see David Gboko’s contact details. He then contacted him by e-mail. He requested David to receive him at the Lumaya International Airport on the particular day of his arrival in Nabi. As they were very good friends, David obliged. He even wrote back to inform John that he was looking forward to reconnecting with this Manurivian buddy who had been very helpful to him during his one-year stay in the Manuvian capital.
John was a very secretive person. He kept the whole news about going for a job interview very close to his chest. All he told his parents was that he had to make an urgent trip to Nabi and would be back in no time. He balked at the idea of giving any more details.

The great day came and Henry John left very early for the airport. The international airport was more than 30 kilometers away from the Manurivian capital of Toraya. He travelled very light. He took along only a parcel of batik fabrics he intended to give David and his wife as their belated birth-day present. The pair of fabrics he placed down his light suit-case and tucking his clothes on top. In less than ten minutes Henry John completed the booking formalities.

The Zankaria Airlines used to make three direct flights in a week between Nabi and Toraya. At times , there were many passengers. At others, there were few passengers. Now that many non-governmental organisations had left Manurivia, not many passengers were to be expected at the departure lounge. On completing the formalities, he went into the waiting lounge, clutching at his handbag. In under one hour, the aircraft was due for take-off for Nabi.

The short flight was not that eventful. However, as an eligible bachelor, John took some delight in feasting his eyes on some of the air-hostesses , clad in very tight-fitting smart uniforms that displayed much of their hips and thighs. As they moved along the narrow aisle past him, their posteriors appeared inviting and provocative. He would suddenly come back to his senses and thought about his Christian morals which forbade him from committing fornication in his heart.

By this time the aircraft was already hovering over the Lumaya International Airport and the pilot was awaiting the green light from the control tower for landing.
On leaving the immigration desk, John spotted David, who was waving a broad sheet of white paper, on which he had inscribed: WELCOME HENRY JOHN.
Henry quickly moved over to David. The two had a warm embrace. Beside David stood a ravishingly beautiful young woman. John concluded that must be Andrea, David’s newly-wedded wife. He then turned to her and gave her a warm handshake. He then addressed his belated congratulatory message to the Gboko couple, on their bold step to come together as husband and wife.

After a long ride to down town Nabi, David veered off to a posh residential area where the newly-married couple had rented a two-bedroom apartment in a block of flats.

Welcoming Henry John, David said,”This is your home; make yourself as comfortable as you can!” He went on to usher Henry John in to a lavishly furnished bed-room, that had been prepared to accommodate him during his brief stay. ‘This is your room and you have all the privacy you require’ the host announced.

After unpacking, John had a quick shower. He put on a pair of shorts and sandals and felt good. He took out the gift he had brought for David and Andrea from his light suit-case. He then joined the Gboko couple in the living-room.
“When do you say your interview comes up, buddy?” David asked John.
“Just tomorrow, at 11:00 am”, John replied
“ O.k; Andrea will drop you at the place. It’s just a stone-throw from the main bus station. I would have loved to take you there myself, but I have a very important meeting with my Manager at about the same time tomorrow”, David sounded apologetic.

Henry John was not a person given to too much protocol. He simply tossed the parcel on to David’s lap and said without ceremony:’’ That ‘s my belated wedding present for you and Madame Gboko’’

David opened the parcel and saw the nice fabrics produced in Manurivia. He tossed the dress at Andrea, announcing in French that their guest had brought them his own wedding present. The couple loved the gift very much and they expressed their gratitude in a friendly manner.

Andrea, who spoke only French , needed David to serve as an interpreter between Henry and herself.

The young couple had two cars: a Peugeot 307 and a Renault Scenic.
In the morning, David reminded Andrea to take their guest to the Regional Office of the Danish Refugee Council, by the main bus station. He soon left on board the Renault Scenic after break-fast.

Andrea and Henry John left by 10:00 am. The traffic was dense and cars moved only at a crawling pace. However, in Forty-five minutes, they arrived at the Danish Refugee Council premises. Henry John disembarked from the car. He made for the enquiries desk. He was later ushered in to the conference-room where the interview would be conducted.

Henry John did not have to wait long. His own interview had been scheduled for exactly 11:00 a.m. He suspected that two other candidates had earlier had their turns, starting from 9:00. The oral interview lasted for thirty minutes. Then the panelists wanted to know John’s background and what made him feel he was the most suitable for the post of Project Disbursement Officer. In a very humble but emphatic as well as confident manner, Henry John stated the basis for his suitability.

The Practical aspect of the interview involved the production of a spreadsheet and some tasks requiring the use of Excel.

Henry John turned out to be the best all-round candidate. He made so much good impression on the panel that at one stage, the Chairman could no longer contain his emotion when he eventually burst out: “Congratulations, Mr. Henry John.” This was a genuine and sincere compliment coming from the depth of the heart of one of those destined to recruit for the particular job opening.

Henry John left the conference room re-assured, but calmly. He joined Andrea, who had been patiently waiting for him at the DRC waiting lobby. They went into the Peugeot 307.Andrea was curious to know how it all went at the interview. She was speaking in rapid French and all Henry could say was Bien, Bien” and no more no less.

“Tout s’est bien passé, donc? ‘(It went all well ,then ?),Andrea insisted in French and Henry shook his head affirmatively.

After that, there were no more exchanges until they reached home. Henry retired to his room, after eating lunch. He had a good afternoon siesta .He woke up at about 6:00 p.m. He could hear David and Andrea talking in undertones as they sat at the living-room. He got up from the bed, went to the rest-room attached to his bed-room. He then quickly brushed his teeth and washed his mouth and then joined his hosts.
“How did it all go today, chum?”, David had eyes all popped out
“ Not bad, really”, was Henry’s modest response. ’I’m very hopeful. I believe I was on top of everything the panelists asked for”, he went on, re-assurringly.

He spent the next weekend with David and Andrea. They went out together and John was able to discover a little taste of the exuberant night life in Nabi. He left the following Monday morning for Toraya.

After exactly a fortnight, Henry John received the good news that he had been expecting. He had been appointed the Disbursement Officer of a Danish Refugee Council project being implemented in one neighbouring country. The annual salary and fringe benefits they were offering were very good.

After reading the offer letter, he broke into a moment of praise and worship for the good thing his Lord had done for him. He later came out of his room to break the good news to his parents. In unison, they all broke out in praising the good Lord and fell down on their knees praising and worshiping the Lord.

Pa Salami John was very eager to know when his only son would be leaving to take up his new appointment in Nabi. Henry John corrected his father that the job location was in another English-speaking country with a very difficult, mouthful name.

Mammy John had mixed feelings of joy and fear at the imminent departure of his one and only son, Henry. Her joy knew no bounds on realizing that their sacrifices of paying fees up to the university had been rewarded. Another source of joy for her was the fact that Henry would now plough back to help his younger siblings still going through their studies. Obviously though, Henry’s prolonged absence from Toraya would sadden her.

The day Henry was due to leave Toraya to take up his first full-time appointment, the whole John family mobilised at the airport to see off the first member of the family destined for an international job. As he boarded the aircraft, tears rolled down many cheeks. He soon disappeared so that none of them could see him again before the take-off.

He would spend the next three weeks in Nabi at the regional headquarters, doing the preliminary training. He stayed with David and Andrea during the course of this training.

He eventually left for Bambratoland on the completion of his training. It was on a bright Thursday morning that Henry John left Nabi for Bambrato the capital of Bambratoland. He was agog with excitement. He was more optimistic than ever. He was thinking more about the prospects and less about the attendant challenges that awaited him in the new job. After a four-hour flight, with brief technical stop-overs in one or two African capitals ,Henry John finally arrived at his destination.

At the Bambrato International Airport to receive him was a pretty young Danish lady. Her face appeared familiar, but John could not, however, place her in the list of his previous encounters with people.

He was still in deep thought when he heard: “Welcome to Bambratoland and to the Danish Refugee Council family in this country”
“ Thank you very much”, was all Henry John could say, almost absent-mindedly.
‘I’m Susan, the Country Director of DRC in Bambratoland”
“Better acquaintance” John mumbled out for want of a better answer. He was still in a deep thought. As Susan drove her into town, he scarcely saw the beautiful city of Bambrato. On arrival at the DRC guest-house, Susan bade him farewell, promising to see him at the office the next day.

The DRC guest-house was the place where newly recruited staff members stayed temporarily until they were able to secure their own permanent accommodation. On their way to the guest-house, John was enrapt in deep thought as Susan drove through the dense traffic congestion.

To many of Susan’s questions, he answered only in one-word or in one-expression answers. He had still not unraveled the puzzle in his mind: ‘Where on earth did I meet this Susan?,” he continued asking himself in deep thought. The answer still eluded him up to the time Susan dropped him off at the guest-house.

He then had a quick shower and lay on bed, still thinking of how to break the gnawing jig-saw puzzle going through his mind.

He then had a hunch. He took the Danish Refugee Council directory, lying on his night table. He went through it very slowly. On arriving at the name Bambratoland, his eyes lit up. He saw the full name Susan Henig, Country Director as designation. The name surely rang a bell. He believed he had heard that name before. He went into another deep thought. He was still in the throes of deep reflection, when he was overtaken by the invading mightier hand of slumber. He re-awoke with a jolt. He thought he had had a break. He needed only one confirmation.

When he reported for work the first day, Susan was on hand to show him round to the other colleagues in the various departments. The last place they went was at the Department of Finance and Administration. There a desk and a chair had been arranged for the newly-recruited member of staff.
Susan introduced Henry to the Finance and Administrative Manager. The latter in turn warmly welcomed Henry.
Before Susan could hurry back to her office, Henry politely stopped her and asked:
‘Are you Susan Henig from Abenraa in Denmark?”
‘Yes, I am. You guessed right Henry. Is anything the matter?’, the Country Director queried.
Henry’s face had already brightened with delight. He then asked casually:
‘Do you recall any pen-friend from Toraya, by the name of Henry John? That must be some fifteen or twenty years ago, when I was then at the secondary school.’
‘Yes, I do’, Susan burst out, excitedly.
‘Well, this is the school-boy pen-friend you used to exchange mails and pictures with.’

Before he could end that last sentence, Susan had spread her arms around Henry’s shoulders, hugging him in an intimately warm embrace.
The two pen-friends who exchanged mails and photos in their adolescence were reunited at the work-place, thousands of miles from each other’s country.

The story of Susan and Henry had a very happy ending. The old epistolary acquaintance soon gave birth to a blissful period of dating. Both being eligible singles, it took them two years of courtship and then, they tied the nuptial knots in a high society wedding that was second to none that Bambrato had so far witnessed.

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