Step One: Order Big Girl and Big Boy.
Step Two: Enjoy a few minutes of grown-up fiction, and come back for more UpNaira every day.
Vultures and Volatility
by Tosin Otitoju
“Oh God, is this thing even moving at all?” she mutters as rain water crawls down the glass of the car’s windows. There has been a mere drizzle but the clouds - engorged as they are with dark bile - threaten a great show-down replete with thunder, lightening, and flood.
“Mr. Yellow, enter that next lane.” She has no time for this slow-crawling traffic at ten o’clock in the morning, particularly because the markets have gone mad again.
Her phone rings: “Yes, yes, I know,” she is saying. With one ear still pressed to the flat phone she grabs her bags. “Un-fucking-believable,” she sighs while pushing the vehicle door open.
Thus it is that our financial maven has to walk the last few meters to the office today. She is tottering slightly as her tastefully-heeled pumps negotiate the rough stone and sand street that is already littered with puddles. The two minutes to her building, she is a mess of missed phone-calls and a mental struggle to rediscover her analytical methodology. She needs to prioritize and execute. First, prioritize.
The startled security guards at the gate of the office building fall over themselves to help with her oversized bag and her laptop bag. They have never really seen her outside her chauffeured vehicles before. She is chuffing under the weight of the bags and the humid tropical heat. Her armpits itch from the sweat. She ignores the guards and quickly makes it to the elevators and up to her office suite.
By the time she gets in she almost knows what to do but she needs a piece of information: “Tai, Euro-dollar,” she asks her FX-trader.
“It has just been red all morning, ma,” he says.
She stands at Tai’s desk. Her bags have been taken by the assistant, unobtrusively into her office. She sees from the currency charts that their losses could only grow. She calls her dealer in London. She redials. If he doesn’t respond, she has a back-up plan. He picks up on the third ring: “Honey, you owe me big time,” he says. “I have a buyer for 100.”
London is ready to take 100 lots off her. “Sell ASAP. Confirm,” she says without even waiting to hear the price.
The lots are sold within a minute, with losses enough to erase three cycles of profit. It could have been worse. An hour later and it would have been 2.5 times worse.
She has not saved her company yet. They have accounts in local stocks. Those are down, but she thinks it’s just jitters; local is not expected to mirror the global market. Inexperienced local traders would not know that, so she sees an opportunity to make a little “lunch” money off the rebound. “Ram, we should maintain UpVol.” she calls to Ramesh. “I think we’re looking at a panic play.”
She is exhausted. She is in the red, no matter what she does today. Euro-Dollar is their most leveraged account, and there just isn’t the kind of speed in local to undo their losses. She is trying to get fresh funds to play with. “Where does one recoup over a million dollars of losses?” she wonders. “Who is wet right now?” She dials the former governor, a client. “There’s an opening right now, sir. I suggest you take a look.”
She succeeds, because Sam the former governor says, “you’ve been doing a good job, young lady. You have my permission.”
Now smiles broadly, full of sugary charm: “I knew you would move quickly on a good thing, sir. How much?”
“Just put the whole thing,” says the governor. “Half. Eh, I don’t know - you use your judgment, just bring me the returns.”
“Well on this you could be looking at sixty days with five or six percent…if you have some cash somewhere not doing anything for you.”
“You said sixty days? I see…”
“My guys could assist with the transfer, it’s top-rate,” she says, and starts typing a message to Esohe, her marketing guy.
The governor says, “I have a daughter like you – very sharp.”
“Thanks sir. I’m just doing my job.” She sends the instant message to Esohe: “Chief Sam U. has fish. Confirm.” She estimates half a million at most in Trust Bank as he hasn’t made any real money since the elections. She trusts Esohe to secure most of that total within hours.
Next customer! She tries the number of another famous “Big Man,” but finds his phones switched off. He must be travelling. Her sandwich arrives for lunch. It’s turkey slices with butter and egg whites, lettuce and beets, between two extra-thick slices of pumpkin bread. She asks her assistant to keep trying the Big Man’s phone. Food is joy, she thinks as she swirls her tongue around the creamy mix.
She is reading messages too: Chief Sam has three hundred cash at home, so Esohe is taking it through the bank. She replies, reminding him that there is three-sixty or so at the bank as well: the chief deposited over 350,000 for a six-month interest of 2%, and that was six months ago. Things are going better than she expected. She receives another message from Barack: “Babe, babe…” It irritates her how much he uses the word. She deletes his message.
“The chief has picked up?” she yells over to her assistant. The chief did say he was going to be abroad, she suddenly remembers. He would be several time zones away, in the dead of night.
“I’m still trying, ma.”
“He must still be asleep. I want to be the first person he talks to when he wakes up.” she snaps back. Now she checks the news wires – it has been a bloody day in the markets. What she needs most is safety - some treasury bills or something - but there are no signals she can trust. She could load up on local securities, but that takes so long that the play would have gone stale. Still, action must be taken quickly.
Her analytical methodology takes all these pieces of information and outputs an answer that is actionable and exact. She instructs Esohe to call his list – “very high priority,” she says. She goes fishing herself, talking to a dozen people from the list. Someone wants to set up a meeting…but she needs money now, not later. She needs a million plus, and the big problem is that after tomorrow’s headlines, nobody will want to invest.
Around three p.m., they finally get the other chief on the line. “Don’t rush things,” he says. He seems to suspect something. Maybe he has seen the news. “When I get back we can sit down together. You always look so sweet.” In other words, no cash.
By around four p.m. the money is in from Chief Sam U. Four hundred thousand only. She is relieved that Esohe made it before the banks closed. Esohe also has two good leads from the list, estimated at about eighty thousand. Even if he reels those in tonight, she still needs half a million.
There are phone calls now from worried clients. She assures them, “we anticipated the shake-out and are now operating our proprietary plan.” She ignores a phone call from Barack, who then writes “So bad, Babe.” He is eager to see her again, that’s what he means by “so bad.” His ardent sex drive irritates her.
She talks to her US brokers – they are just as shaken. She signs various approvals for the next day’s transactions. Just before she can finish up, her assistant alerts that Money FM is on the line, so she gives a quick radio interview while the staff is gathering around Tai’s desk for the six o’clock staff meeting.
Ram is worried about a freeze-up in local. His boss has now finished the radio piece and joined the huddle. Liquidity is always an issue in such markets, Ram says, and he doesn’t want to be locked in when there is an adverse movement – that is one horror movie that he never wants to watch again. But she argues that the local trade presents “un-missable” short-term gains.
She searches the men’s faces for signs of support. Ram shrugs. He may disagree with her aggressive plan but she knows he’ll do what she says and do it with extremely good judgment. She is not worried about Ram.
“What kind of night can we look forward to on UpVol, Tai?” she asks. Tai, who has never seen a trading day like this one before, is too shaken to offer any opinions. He stammers that he’ll run the numbers and she is annoyed that he wouldn’t just estimate but as usual leans too much on exact figures.
The office manager, the only one at the meeting with gray in his hair, does not voice his own worries, but his stiff, shocked demeanor says all: if this company can’t make fifty thousand within this week, it may have problems paying staff salaries. The boss strives to reassure her team: “money makes more money, it does not just disappear.”
This meeting continues until she receives a reminder - “you coming?” – for dinner at 7pm with her former classmate. This guy is her old acquaintance, former friend, fellow alum, something like that. She is never really sure where to place him. She asks him for 30 minutes, she’s going to be late. She decides presently that it’s best to adjourn the meeting and quit the pep-talk, and so they close for the day, tired and hoping for a bit of good luck to save them.
She picks up her bags, out the door, elevators, security says goodnight, Mr. Yellow waiting down the stairs, and hurls her body tired but still fragrant in its yellow blouse – it’s silk, very becoming - and patterned skirt into the backseat of her jeep. Mr. Yellow is looking in the rearview mirror with his head cocked, waiting for instructions.
“We’re going to Sonar,” she tells him.
She quickly dabs and sprays and touches-up. Her mirror approves.
At the restaurant-club Sonar, her friend Ego (pronounced AY-go) watches her enter the main hall. When she reaches the table, he gives her a kiss on the cheek. “You look tired,” he says.
“It’s been quite a day. You know.” She orders chapman and shrimp fried rice.
“You need something stiffer, Child. Take some of this.” She obediently downs his nearly-full glass of Guinness, despite its bitter taste. Behind Ego is a Nigerian oil painting - of a royal on horseback amid the crowd at a Durbar festival. She notices that the painting is bright while the furniture is dark. She forgets to be sad, so preoccupied is she with the robe’s blue-white and the scene’s yellow bright.
The waiter brings her rice. It feels soothing to have her mouth full of this salty, oily stuff they call fried rice in this town. Soon she is telling Ego of her woes. She knows he has been through worse situations, she wants his advice. “But a million is nothing to you” she says finally.
“I just pick up scrap for a living.” he jokes. “I’m the dustbin man.”
“The rich dustbin man,” she says and sips her chapman. If chapman is a mixture of sweet (fruit punch), sour (lime), and fizzy (soda), this one is mostly sweet, and she loves it so.
“When the asset is rotten, then I go in.”
She remembers a poem from her childhood, “…flies to a tree and looks around // for rotting rubbish on the ground” and thinks how her once-fresh assets have become rotting rubbish…
Ego interrupts her thoughts with “how is your musician?”
“He’s alright. At least he doesn’t have to worry about going broke like this.”
Ego looks over her bust with greedy beady eyes. “He’s a lucky boy.”
“Hey, he’s not that young,” she says with a chuckle.
“Cradle snatcher,” he says, his face laughing hard but noiselessly. A vein bulges on his head. It snakes from above his eyebrow up to the North Pole on his head apparently. He fits the poem perfectly: “…hunching shoulders, old bald head // he’d like me better if I were dead.”
The little rhyme is about a vulture. Now she remembers a war movie - was it about Somalia or Ethiopia? This skin-and-bones African child in the dry sand, weak, but not quite finished yet. A vulture just a few meters away wanted to make a meal of the child. Angelina Jolie’s character - to the rescue - shoos the vulture away and nurses the youth.
“Who will be my Angelina?” she now wonders, feeling sorry for herself and her financial wreck.
“Yes, another stout,” Ego’s voice rouses her again from her thoughts. They have known each other since her second year in Finance at NU, and years later they wound up in the same business school for their MBAs. She considers that his voice was never the best thing about him, and now he has lost his good looks as well. He could be her ugly Angelina. She could marry the ugly vulture. She hates the idea so much that her tummy heaves angrily.
“I have to go home. It’s been a long day.”
“I’ll come with you,” says Ego, in a very quick response.
She stops to watch his face for signs that he was just joking. Still not sure, she chides, “Ego, seriously now.”
“To the car. I’ll come with you to the car. What’s the problem?”
“Sure,” she answers, with relief. The anxiety in her which has just risen so suddenly again falls so very sharply, making her more tired than ever. She needs some ice-cream or anything sugary. She calls the waiter and asks for an ice-cream. The restaurant has strawberry and chocolate flavours. That would be good enough.
He has his Guinness, she eats two scoops of ice-cream. When they finish together, they pick up all their property – phones and keys and bags – and leave a few bills on the table. At the car, he kisses her goodnight. She crawls in the back of the car feeling disconnected from her mind, unlike the analytical, methodological maven that she usually is. Grasping to arrange her thoughts, she finds the poem*:
The ugly vulture flaps and hops // pecks at scraps and walks and stops // flies to a tree and looks around // for rotting rubbish on the ground.
He likes dead things and he pecks them clean // he’s terribly ugly, dull, and mean // hunching shoulders; old, bald head // he’d like me better if I were dead...
She remembers learning that in primary school: the class seated in pairs, the wooden desks and chairs, reciting line-by-line after their teacher during English period.
Mr. Yellow is driving her home and wondering about the man who just pushed his madam against the back door with a vigorous kiss. Unlike the other man at the house, this one looks old enough to be the new boss. He is glad about that: every woman needs a man to be her proper boss at home, and every woman needs to be protected. And the man she has at home now is too young to fit the bill. He looks in the rearview mirror to see her slumped, asleep, in her seat. “She is a curvy woman all over,” he thinks, and it makes him aroused.
In a few minutes they reach the condominium apartments. The boss enters and locks her front door, and Mr. Yellow is not needed any more. He starts his own long journey home without the luxury of a private vehicle.
Barack is in, smelling of gin. She takes off her shoes and unhooks her bra before falling asleep next to him. He takes off more of her clothes and has sex with her. All she hears is a string of babe this, babe that, disrupting her sleep.
In the morning she gets her corn flakes and tunes to the news on cable TV. She has to go in to work early and work on their big deficit. She has a headache, so Barack brings her aspirin and water. Later he wants to join her in the bathroom. “Time,” she complains and so he stays out. He spreads butter on his bread and prepares his hot chocolate milk. He talks to her all through breakfast. “Babe, you know I never ask you for money…” he says. It irritates her that he begs for money like a child.
While she gets dressed for work, he keeps talking about the plan at his studio, to “release two singles,” “test the market.” It irritates her that he has so much faith that these songs of his will make money. The real money is not in music, the real money is in money. That money makes more money is an obvious fact to her. She needs to pay her staff in two weeks – another fact.
“Babe, you look worried Babe. Is your head still paining?” She is mentally drawing an action plan to earn fifty thousand within a week on eighty percent working capital. He moves in to touch her neck and forehead. Her temperature is normal. He combs his fingers through her expanse of superstar hair. It pleases him how it looks just like the hair on black Americans. They kiss with a great amount of desire. In all this, he avoids touching her scalp where the fibers are sewn onto a rough, stiff basket. They kiss with such an unbearable amount of desire that she makes time for love.
* Poem is attributed to a Macmillan Primary English Reader.