The gentle taps of raindrops on our rusty roof tops, threatened to lure me back to sleep as the dawning light gently filtered into the room summoning the dawn of another day. It is going to be another wet day. This means traffic congestion on the many uneven and slightly tarred roads in my area. I do not even want to think about the pot holes that lie on the uneven patches along the way. My insides groan in protest at the thought of it.
It is another day and another chance for me to earn my keep after all. It is the only way to survive in this country. The five thirty Morning Prayer call from a nearby mosque is a daily alarm clock that lets me know that it is another day to earn my keep. As usual there is no electricity and I have to light a kerosene lamp or candle. A jostle reminder of the kind of society that I live in.
I remember my first day at work like it was yesterday. The day went by like a blur. I remember wondering if I was going to get paid for just smiling and receiving people? It wasn’t what I signed up to be upon graduation but the attraction was the money and the fact that I would be working in one of the most desired place of work in the country, an Oil and Gas industry! It definitely did not matter how I got in, the deal was that I was in and the other alternative was to work in a bank as a marketer (based on my looks and not on any skill) and I don’t think I have the stomach for that but this? It felt like easy money even if it is going to be temporary. My goal is to spend at most two years on this role of a receptionist, minimum eighteen months top. Then I will move on to greater things. Before I took on this role I was working for the state government as an intern even though I was a graduate. I was paid peanuts compared to this and besides there were already issues of embezzlement going on over there and no sooner had I left than it was dissolved. So I was out of a job for eight months and was almost becoming pathetic at home with my folks wondering if all their efforts at sending me to school were in vain.
Oh Lord! A very handsome man has just walked into the reception and he is smiling at me. The butterflies in my stomach have erupted and I am trembling with excitement. What a rush! Is this how it is going to be every time a good-looking man comes in here? I had better comport myself. Be professional I tell myself. Anyway I am still learning on the job and I am quite good with faces figures and facts, so I don’t think I will have too much problems. So instead I turn to Rita my colleague an apparent pro on the Job even though she has been here for a year now. It seems to me like she isn’t as excited about the job anymore but she is helpful and patient with me. She soon quickly and effectively handles the handsome man, a customer and he is off and on his way.
This job is a piece of cake” I thought foolishly.
That was the way I felt five years ago when I first began this work as a receptionist. Now I sit and look back and reflect. I was fresh-faced, ambitious, young and silly but not too reckless. I was very optimistic about life. I was excited about the job. I had the world at the tip of my fingers or so I thought. I felt I could do anything and everything. Well life happened and it happened very quickly too. Working for a large cooperation in the Oil and Gas sector exposed me to a lot of people, especially since I had to deal with all kinds of people and I was the first point of call and a reflection of the Company. So I had a vast knowledge of the personnel on ground and I had lots of information about the Company profile that I was allowed to give out. I also had gained tact on the job and learnt to be discrete where necessary.
But right now I can’t even remember the last time I smiled genuinely at people. I have perfected a cool stare and a plastic smile that I dish out automatically. This is because I have discovered that people will do that to you. Humans will just lie for no reason and deceive you in any way they can just to get what they want, even when the truth is the only way to achieve that. And I just have to keep on smiling. There are lots of episodes and encounters on the job and I often remember when coming to work I would say a silent prayer asking God not to let anyone put me in trouble that will jeopardize my work and my ethic.
I think that of all the creatures God created, humans are the most complicated of the lot. Don’t let me even get started on women! Women are the most dangerous, complicated, complex and troublesome of the lot. Receptionists are often accused of being on the phone a lot at work and most times I wondered who was going to answer the phone if not the receptionist?? We are the gateway of the Company.
I mean how would, any sane person take one look at you and decide there and then on the spot, not to like you and be hell-bent on making trouble with you at first glance. Well women are capable of that, but that does not exclude the men too as they are equally far too dangerous. Most often some big shot from top organizations will come and stylishly drop their complimentary cards or even cash and expect us to take it up from there,(as though we are easy lays”)and sometimes in front of our bosses. Ballsy: but dangerous to one’s job ethics. What a lot of people do not remember or fail to realize is that, receptionists are human beings with emotions and feelings. A receptionist more than often gets yelled at and frequently insulted for doing the job. And in the same vein will have to remain professional and calm.
Any way getting back to my story, working as a receptionist was not always as demeaning as I am making it out to be since the general assumption was that receptionists are pretty much empty airheads, school certificate leavers or drop-outs, temporary workers, gossips, boyfriend snatchers, over active social climbers and gold diggers. But having worked as one I beg to differ.
Receptionists are actually well-educated, sophisticated, well read, well-travelled, quick thinking crisis managers. In most cases play a double role of a receptionist and a secretary. But most people don’t see that. They only see the nastiness and attribute it to all receptionists. In a way the receptionist is like an air hostess cabin crew of the building and an organization. It is possibly one of the hardest jobs in a work place. What people do not realize is the receptionist is the face of the organization and her actions are scrutinized at every moment of her working experience.
But then I digress as I am not here to give a lecture on how to be a receptionist. But then again I cannot tell my story without making reference to the fact that I am a receptionist.
Even when I had personal relationships my job role often affected the relationships. let me start with my first relationship was with David, a dashing heartbreaker of a man. He was a staff of the company, smart tall and sexy as hell. I was a little intimidated by him because of my status as a receptionist and I knew from the onset that he was in-to me because of my looks and poise. I had mastered the art of sophistication and elegance, which set me apart from my peers as I didn’t just want to be approached by just anyone. Even if my job status, was a lowly one (according to them). But that relationship soon went burst’ as I discovered early on, that looks weren’t everything and as much as he was good to look at and sound like, he just couldn’t stimulate me on a level that I was craving for. I was looking for a man who had the combination of a sound intellect, respectful of me and my views as a woman and not one so overwhelmed by his achievements. David was a very proud man too. But Good lord! Could he look good in a suit?
Whenever we had lunch together he had the most impeccable manner and I learnt and copied his manners and etiquette while dinning. But he had a way of reminding me that I was a receptionist and that did not go well with me. The sex was not that great too and it was partly his ego that got in the way of a good shag and plus he had a way of pouring saliva into my ears thinking it was a turn on. I still shudder while thinking about it. But he had a good body and was generous with his gifts. Well he soon got posted out to another location and I said goodbye to that relationship. I found out a year later when he got married and I called him to wish him well without prejudice and I don’t know where he got the impression that I wanted to get back with him, having moved on myself. After that he came to the office a couple of times wanting to pick off where he left off but I vehemently rejected him. Well that certainly put an end to office romance for me and after a while we became distant acquaintances in the same work environment. Lesson learned and I moved on.
Politics intrigues and drama often occurred in the organization and I learnt to keep my head above water. I avoided getting dragged into the murky waters of corruption and mudslinging that often went on at work. It was my own survival mechanism. Most of the problems we had on the job were mainly human errors, ethnic diversity, laziness and sheer dislike from some of the staff as most of them either had a hidden agenda of wanting to replace us (the receptionists) with their own people who varied from siblings, relations, girlfriends and mentee. Honestly not a week went by without one altercation or the other on my third year on the Job. By then I was beginning to tire of it and I soon grew weary and restless wondering why life was passing me by. I was without prospects for another job as I tried applying to other work places and was often told I was crazy for wanting to leave an Oil & Gas company for anything else. I had once been told by a female banker friend of mine that even if I was mopping the floor of the Oil Company where I was working I should feel privileged because it was better than what she was doing. Which got me wondering, what she was up to.
Often time’s fresh faced graduates from privileged backgrounds often got a spot at the coveted positions in the organization and had to be taught the trade by those who’s spotlight has been stolen away. And then become bosses of those who taught them the ropes. All because the organization, relied on prestige over experience. Most of the time there were often stories of bitter-sweet experiences but it is all a circle of life I guess. What do I know? I am a receptionist. Most of these experiences were often second-hand tales that one hears amongst colleagues during lunch time and or during the staff bus ride home.
I lost a couple of relationships to my working as a receptionist, which I regretted then, but now I can confidently say that losing out on them was the best thing to have happened to me. My work gave me a keener and sharper sense to spotting inferiority complexes and the insecurity in the men that I dated. I remember Benedict a boyfriend that lasted just over six months. He couldn’t deal with the fact that I earned slightly a couple of bucks more than he was. Because he was working in a bank and being our account officer he had access to knowing how much I earned. He was mostly irate and unreasonable. By the second month of our relationship and having heard enough of his rants on the issue that I was earning more than he was, I was ready to call it quits but then friends were telling me that it was the stress of his job that was making him out to be unreasonable and that he really was a nice guy and some reminded me that I ought not to feel superior over him because I was working in an Oil & Gas Company. Never mind the fact that we were both graduates from the same University, I often had to prove to him that I had as much right to be earning just as much as I was, I mean insults and all. Well his insecurity came to the fore when we went for a party and as usual the getting to know you questions on where do you work? (which is to set a precedent on how I will relate to you) questions came up at his friend’s party. I was irritated by these questions and before Benedict could answer for me I answered his friends and told them I was a receptionist. You could literally hear their pea sized brains protest’ as their faces froze and they had to cover up with exaggerated nods and tried to think of sensible remarks. Benedict thought he was coming to my rescue when he tried to cover up by embellishing my job status to his home boys. By saying ‘don’t mind her guys she is a front desk officer at the Oil & Gas Company. I wanted to protest ‘Potatoe! Potato! But two things happened simultaneously which left me stunned. One, Benedict squeezed my waist as though warning me not to say anything and his friend’s faces changed as though I was now transformed to this goddess Big Girl status” upon hearing that I worked in an Oil & Gas Company.
I was irked beyond words. What kind of company was I keeping for God’s sake?
Before the night was over I had had enough offers of wanting an introduction on how to get into the Company. Well the relationship went south hill from there and needless to say I was too real for Benedict and it couldn’t work out between us as we were constantly fighting and he was too demanding, always scrutinizing my spending and wanting to help himself to my hard earned money.
I will never forget another experience I had with a guy whom I used to see while I was in the university. His name was Ahmed. Now I wasn’t friends with Ahmed nor did I have anything to do with him but we were in the same faculty and I knew him only facially. So you can imagine my surprise when one day he walks in with these government regulators and upon seeing me recognition lit in his face. I attended to him and his colleagues and they were soon on their way about their business. I gave no thought to him again. Until I was summoned by my manager and was asked to attend to a cocktail given by our company to act as a hostess along with two of my colleagues and that, we would be paid. Well free cocktails, a grand atmosphere, mingling with the high and mighty; I was pretty excited to be a participant.
During the tedious task of escorting guests up and down a flight of stairs at the prestigious hotel in my six-inch high stilettos I was soon weary and sore and a little irritable too. But the thought of a new date who was going to escort me home later that night kept my spirit up. (I had recently begun seeing this great guy who despite my being a receptionist didn’t seem to mind and wasn’t taking me for granted too). Just as we were thinking that all the guests had arrived and we were wondering when to call it quits, Ahmed appeared like a phantom in the night and I nudged my colleague Rita to escort him but she had already removed her heels and was ungraciously rubbing her foot in the hotel lounge. I rolled my eyes at her and cursed her inwardly for leaving me with him. Well I had to put on my diplomatic game face as I ushered him to the hall all the while smiling at his attempt of small talk. Just as we were about to call it a night, Ahmed comes hurrying up to me and asks for my number. I was a little uncomfortable giving it to him and so I gave him the office line. Yes we went to school together; no I wasn’t interested in him. He was somewhat disappointed that I didn’t give him my direct number but I decided the play the professional card with him. I was bent on not having anything to do with anyone from the work place again after David especially if I have to be attending to my lover on a professional level.
By Monday morning my Manager calls me up and wanted to know why I had been rude to one of the regulators by saying and I quote “he said I was a MERE receptionist who had insulted him.” To say that I was perplexed would be an understatement and this coming from someone I went to school with? I could not phantom what could have led to this and I carefully explained what had transpired between Ahmed and I. My manager clicked his heels together and advised me to be careful when dealing with men and I was thoroughly vexed at his insinuations that I could have handled the situation much better than that. I left muttering my apologizes and begun to think that my manager would pimp me out if he had a chance to do so. But I wasn’t done with Ahmed yet and I could not let it slide as he had not only labeled but insulted me. I naturally held a grudge against him, I became cold and distant towards him from then on and prayed that Karma would catch up with him.
Some other funny experience I had being receptionist came in the form of a phone call. It was very strange that some guy called and was asking to speak with me. Mentioning my name and specifying that I worked at the reception. It was a long distance call and a foreign number at that but by the end of the call I didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted. The caller had specifically asked for me and began to talk as though he knew me very well. I asked him repeatedly who he was and he told me his name which I forget almost immediately and cannot recollect even till this day who he was. Apparently he worked as one of the security guards attached to the company and knew me very intimately (in his mind) and now having procured a visa was now residing or visiting in the United Kingdom. He claimed he has now arrived and is now capable of asking me out. I was miffed but I didn’t want to make him feel bad so I lied that I was in a serious relationship that was heading towards marriage, even though I was single and had been for quite some time. I wished him all the best and silently wondered if he thought that I was that high maintenance, if he couldn’t summon the courage nor the balls to talk or ask me out when he was here. That got me wondering how the other struggling potential staff viewed me. I wondered if they thought me shallow or just high maintenance.
I didn’t wallow too much on that as I wondered what next to do. On several occasions I tried to apply for other positions within the Company but without success and I decided to venture outside the Company. I was not satisfied with being just a receptionist I felt I could do more. I felt a calling in the Human resource department but that eluded me too. I did get an offer or two from some giant Telecoms but the pay was a far cry from what I was getting and the role equally annoyingly similar to what I was already doing. I was getting frustrated on the job as classmates were getting promoted, girlfriends were getting married, and guys were evasive and suspicious of my job attributing any improvement in my lifestyle to involvement with various top shots in the organization where I worked. For instance when I bought a car, it was rumored that some big man had bought it for me even when my colleagues were also buying theirs too. When I travelled out of the country it was also rumored that I accompanied some big shot out of the country. Because I was single it was easy to be attached any man who so much as looked my way or spoke to me as a potential lover. And the tying factor was: I was a receptionist. It was as though being a receptionist meant that I was a high-end escort, or a certified mistress.
Even staff’s wives didn’t make our lives any easy as we fell, potential preys of their spouses infidelities. The natural assumptions were that we were their husband’s mistresses or secret lovers and our greetings were often met with hostility. Some even saw us as aides and that we abetted’ to their spouses many escapades and tried to befriend us in other to snitch on their husbands.
Not all the staff were bad as I often had crushes on some of them but it went no further than crushes from a distance. Some of my colleagues had their own stories to keep my crushes in check and I was grateful for our closeness. Many actually respected us and understood that our work was quite important, sometimes challenging and often misconstrued.
It definitely had its ups and down but it has helped to shape me into the person that I am and given me to wherewithal to be who I am today.
As I stand here in front of this huge sign post advertising my Etiquette and Business Class I am filled with a certain amount of purpose and poise and ready to instill in any willing participant the knowledge and wisdom of being a receptionist and a good front end officer. After so many years of thinking that the role of the receptionist was a lowly one I am grateful for the opportunity it availed be because it has prepared me to be who I am today. A first class citizen, who can confront anyone in any organization.
This is a work of fiction. Names, Characters, Places and Incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.