Mine is the first shrink service in Nigeria.
Hitherto, Nigerians only saw shrinks in American movies. They watched as couples sat on cozy couches and told their tales to a man or woman in a sharp suit behind a desk. I too watched those scenes for many years with longing till I completed my first and second degrees in Psychology and Counselling before I rented a fourth floor office along Allen Avenue.
I got the Persian rug, the couch and a chandelier. I bought a large mahogany desk too, and got a fat young lady to be my secretary. It was no trouble coming up with a name for my practice. ‘Unfinished Business’ came naturally. I have always been fascinated by how so little closure people achieve and how their pasts snoop along with them so conspicuously.
My first clients were young married women, wealthy ladies. The story was always the same with them.
“He is cheating”
“He drinks too much”
”He does not like my going to church.”
Gregg was my first absurdity case.
His first day, my secretary ran into my office. She was excited; which is one of the two reasons she would run, the other being when she was really terrified.
“We have our first male client!”, she squealed. “His problems must be work-related.”
Those were my first thoughts as well, except he was the sensitive kind, one of the outliers in the male population who would seek counsel from a shrink concerning romance or marriage.
Gregg was my first unfinished business. He seemed unsure about my competence at first. Or was it just the fear of facing the horrors lurking in his shadows that kept him hesitant at the beginning? As he relaxed, the tension fell on me. His was no cake walk.
During the first session, he sat at the edge of the couch and did not take off his jacket. It was a blue suit and his pocket square matched his socks. He looked like he was in a hurry, like he had not paid for a two-hour session. He began with the story of a certain Lamide lady. He said she stalked him. I was going to abandon professional conduct and just burst into laughter at the thought of a young man terrified of a woman’s attention.
But then he lowered his head and said “they don’t understand. They see all these and they have no idea what I am capable of.” His eyes were shut tight as he spoke and long after he had finished, they stayed closed. Then his breathing began to amplify and he sank into the couch. The professional in me was immediately certain that yesterday held on firmly to Gregg’s collar and pulled. Underneath the poise – for he looked like he materialized from a GQ magazine – he was choking.
Immediately, I knew what to ask.
“How many were they?”
“I don’t know” Gregg said.
I panicked a little before I got excited. My secretary was right to run, pity I could not share any information with her from my conversations with clients. We gossiped a lot though about the married women and their issues, but only the petty ones. Like young Mrs. Banke who came with long, well manicured nails and badly fixed eyelashes that made her blink rapidly. She sank into the couch and said she was getting a lot of “negative energy” from her house help.
The alarm that morning was a brash interruption of an oasis of peace.
Gregg was startled to consciousness and immediately felt a sense of loss and regret for the serenity he had just lost. The ringing phone had brought his first happy dream in several weeks to an abrupt end. For on other days, the phone was some saviour.
He usually set the alarm with great hope, selecting the noisiest ring tone, and setting the volume at a hundred percent. It had to be loud enough to pull him from the horrors beneath his eyelids; the demons lurking there ready to play the gruesome content of their tapes. He always went to bed petrified of what grim footage would capture his night. But the alarm always came through.
That morning, there was no nightmare; it was rather a happy dream which the ringing phone had ruined so loudly. He fumbled around the bed searching for the Blackberry. When he felt a cold, smooth object, he flung it across the dark room and heard it shatter somewhere in the darkness, but the ringing continued. Oh snap! He had just smashed his iPhone! The Blackberry was the culprit. His hands grabbed it this time but refrained from flinging. So the happiness buster survived unharmed? It made sense, he thought. He did not deserve to be happy anyways.
Gregg got out of bed and walked in the darkness towards the light switch. The ground was cold. “That should be the coldest part of the day” he said aloud, to himself, “the rest of it would be sizzling hot.”
The brightness that invaded the room forced a squint. There it was, the pieces of what used to be his iPhone.
“I work for this country’s premier IT Solutions Company. I make a great deal of money. I would not brood over an iPhone. I’ll simply buy another. I really should stop throwing objects. I’ll throw large words at them today though, Esteemed Board of Directors.”
Gregg had the habit of engaging himself in bathroom conversations. The subject of his discourse that morning was his meeting with the Board of Directors who were eager to hear from him – the budding twenty-seven year old whose ideas had raked in plenty money. This latest idea, if well-handled would cripple the company’s two rivals. Gregg also told himself that the Board would try to talk him into full-time employment, instead of the present contractual status which he insisted on. They like to own people.
“They will not put me in their pockets. It’s best to dangle my expertise before their faces and watch them salivate. I mean, the contractual arrangement as a long-term expert is ingenious! Fewer rules of office protocol apply to me, I get to be paid a great deal more money and should larger gold beckon, I can be out before a tick of the clock. There is no retirement benefit though. But who cares, with all this money, I’ll make up my benefits. Who’s talking about retirement when we’re looking at maximizing the returns on skill and youth?”
Lamide had all her teeth out in her usual too-broad smile as Gregg pushed through the door into the main reception of Cyragon Systems Inc. She had been sure for a while now that her constant grinning and winking and the gentle pats on his shoulders were a waste of time. She watched him. Dark suit and bold brown shoes with those bright-coloured socks.
She slipped into a brief fantasy. Again, they were married and her friends were pestering her to divulge how she conjured a man out of GQ Magazine. She rolled her eyes and asked if they thought she wasn’t good enough for him.
“He is an accomplished man, well-educated, and an expert paid at levels far beyond your level.”
She snapped out of it, still grinning at Gregg who as always never really seemed to take notice.
Not when she invested in Brazilian hair, or left the buttons around her cleavage undone. Not when she began to wear skimpy skirts or brew excuses to leave the front desk to his office on the fifth floor.
She was still grinning, watching him. Persistence is the key. She watched him hug Frank, that effeminate jerk from Finance and Accounts, then stretched out his hands to give Ijeoma, one of the pretty ladies from Legal, a handshake.
‘Damn it!’. Lamide snapped. This startled the gentleman who had failed for several minutes to arrest her attention though he had repeatedly said “Good morning, I have an appointment with Mr Gregg, Product Design Specialist, he asked me to come this morning.”
Gregg would hug a man so tightly, then shake a woman’s hand. What more need be said?
She was still smiling at him as he walked towards her desk. He would not sustain eye contact but at least he was walking up to her desk today; usually, he would just turn towards the elevator.
“Good morning Greggy”
He nodded at her. She saw him pat the gentleman who had been standing in front of her desk on the shoulder. The man was startled but his face lit up when he saw Gregg. Another hug. Gregg had his hands on the man’s shoulders as they both walked away towards the elevator.
Hmmm. Those bold brown shoes.
The story continues…
Live by Design.