By Their Beards You Shall Know Them – Last year June something happened that changed the way I saw beards, I mean men who kept beards. I was going in for the last leg of an interview that had taken most of the month. The company was a big one that hired only the best minds. Its headquarters were in the most affluent parts of Lagos Island.
About eight hundred prospective applications were received, only six made it to the end. And I was one them. My name on the list was Abike Jumoke, No 5.
That morning of mid-June I was elegantly dressed in a suit and skirt that tapered at the knees, accentuating my curvy figure, looking at my 31-year-old self in the mirror I was content with what I saw. On my dresser sat a sheet of paper containing the names of all 6 remaining applicants. Five men and one woman, me. I smiled. Beside the paper was a perfume I got specifically and especially for this day. I dabbed it in the appropriate places. A woman engaged her vanities sometimes.
The company’s instructions included being at a certain bus stop in the mainland at 7 am prompt. That was somewhere at Oshodi. It was the closest for all the six of us.
I left my place about 5:50 am and caught a bus going that way. Around 6:50 am I got off that bus and found the bus stop. A group of men from the list was there already. They welcomed the only female among them warmly. I do not now remember all their names again.
Three of the men were in a hot debate about football when I met them. One stood alone with a phone to his ear, he was listening to the news on it. The sixth fellow had not arrived yet.
I was interested in the names of this men so I consulted my list.
Then we made formal introductions.
The one who had his phone glued to his ears was an Ibo guy, Chukumah. The other three arguing over Manchester United and Arsenal FC were Yoruba guys. I couldn’t place the names on the list against their faces and I couldn’t tell who was the one we were still expecting. I waited beside Chukumah.
Traffic was building up on a Lagos morning. The sky was overcast and it looked like the rain might fall at any moment.
I mentioned this observation to Chukumah.
“Rain is actually in the forecast today.” He said.
“I hope we are en route before it begins though.”
“I hope so too.”
He checked his watch. I checked mine too. It was almost 7 am.
“We are still expecting one guy, Charles.”
“Oh.” I looked at the guys talking soccer. “I thought that man is Charles.”
The group has been referring to a bespectacled guy as Charley.
“Ah, no O. There’s a second Charles.” Said Chukumah.
I asked him why he wasn’t with them discussing football. Did he prefer talking stocks or what? He said football bored him to death.
I laughed and asked, “so you watch Zeeworld with your wife?”
Chukuma shrugged, “that one is even worse.”
So what did a man who didn’t watch football do when other men are watching it?
A drop of rain fell on my nose. And another. It was going to start raining soon.
Shortly thereafter an Okada weaved through the traffic and deposited a guy before us. He paid the Okada man off and quickly joined us. This was the Charles, the sixth applicant.
The moment I saw him I wondered how he made it this far in the interview process. He was average height, dark-skinned, he wore a pinstripe suit and same trousers. His hair was cut low on his head but the barber must have moved all the hair from his head to his face because his beard was so much I could barely make out the mouth that said: “hello, good morning.” In a baritone.
He shook hands with the men and quickly melted into their discussion. I shook my head. Men.
To me, he looked so out of place with that much beard. It was so informal notwithstanding the suit and tie. Rick Ross, with his fat stomach, came to my mind. I have seen videos of bearded men like that on cable TV smoking things, drinking things and just not the kind of material I thought this company could be hiring.
I nudged Chukumah, “the beard.” I whispered.
About 7:10 am a grey colored SUV pulled up beside us. The driver, a lanky smiling young man waved us over. The men wanted to know why he delayed.
“Traffic O.” he said.
The journey began toward Lagos island.
The football talk wore off the more we drew closer to the island. The rain drizzled outside, water washed off the windscreen as the wiper worked. Suddenly there was a loud bang outside and the car pulled into the curb. I panicked.
“Are we safe!?”
The driver jumped out of the car. Through the rain, I saw him going around the car. His face appeared moments later, “it’s one of the back tyres.” He said and was gone again.
The bearded guy, who was sitting by the driver turned to us, “well, it looks like we are really going to be late now.” He smiled. His beard was a crescent black sheen.
“At least, it’s not our fault.” Said Chukumah.
“I hope the driver can change tyres O. I can’t enter rain O.” said the one they called Charley.
“Na who wan enter rain.” Said another.
It started pouring outside again, more than before. Then the bearded guy, Charles, did the unexpected.
“In this rain, it will be difficult for one person.” He said and out I to the rain he went.
I turned around to see the two men bent behind the car, the rain pelting them.
Two men, the driver, and the bearded guy, both dripping water ran into the car. They were both completely drenched. Charles’ suit was absolutely ruined for an interview. He was smiling.
Compliments poured on both men.
“At least, we are lucky there is a spare.” His beard moved.
We were on the move again. The rain subsided as we entered mainland. Conversation in the car had picked again, this time it was about the company and the unusual style of interview.
“Guys, has anybody seen ‘Exam’?” asked Charley.
No one among the other men had seen it. I had.
“No one? Guys, life is not about football alone na.”
He gave them a synopsis. The movie was about an interview where applicants for the job were sequestered in a place to write an exam. Each of them had a blank paper that supposedly contained the question, with instructions never to damage the paper or risk expulsion from the program. It was quite an interesting exploration into the psychology of stress.
The bearded guy in front, his collars up, said, “maybe there’s a camera in the car right now, and someone in the company headquarters is watching our reactions, right?”
Everyone went quiet. The men started looking in corners of the interior, the dashboard, and the roof.
“We should ask the driver,” I said.
“Ahaa, driver, is it true?” they inquired.
He laughed, “My own is just to carry people O.”
We arrived on the island. The rain had dropped to a drizzle and the streets were filling up with people again. The time was 9:50 am when we pulled into the basement parking lot of a high-rise building. It was about 10 or 15 storeys tall. We were here.
A lady came out of the elevators to meet us. She was a tall and slender woman, pretty and sharply dressed. When you saw an employee of a company you want to work with dressing this way, sharp and businesslike, you have a hard time imagining what the men dressed like too.
The lady said, “Good morning and welcome.”
We greeted her too.
“Well, apologies for what happened with the car. My name is Abigail. I will now escort you all up to the venue for your final interview. Please, come with me.”
We filed after her.
In the elevator, I took a long look at the bearded guy again. Does this guy really want this job? With all those facial hairs? He looked like an Alfa. Like DJ Khalid. He didn’t belong here. How did his name even get on this list?
The elevator stopped and we popped out into a long corridor, deserted mostly, except us. The lady walked briskly to a large door and opened it. We were ushered into a large conference room with a long table and swivel office chairs around it.
“Lady and gentlemen, wait here. You can have your seat, please.”
We started picking out seats around the large table. I found one close to the big Windows so I can feel the warmth of the sun that was slowly coming out and to take in the view of downtown Lagos island. The bearded guy was taking his suit off, his shirt was a crisp brown, his tie well knotted.
“Now, I would be back to call you out one after the other as your names appear on the list that was given to you. Do we still have it?”
We raised our list into the air. The bearded guy raised a sodden mess up.
The lady saw it and said, “well, sorry about that. Be right back, get ready.”
Time ticked, small talk frittered around the table. One of the men wanted to know what I’d do if I got the job. Another asked how my husband felt about a working-class wife. I smiled.
“I am not married,” I said.
“Really, but you do have someone.” Said the one called Charley.
“No O, abi you want to shoot your shot?” someone asked. Laughter followed.
The doors opened.
In came the pretty lady. She scanned the group, the way judges at game shows did when they wanted to call out the name of the third runner up.
She held her paper up and called, “Chukumah Arome.”
The door closed softly and they were gone. The room was quiet. I turned to look out the window.
“you know, you look like someone who is so used to this.”
I turned around, the bearded guy was beside me. I started.
“Can I sit?” he asked, pulling a chair close to me. “I need to be a little bit dryer before my turn.”
I said it was okay if he wanted to sit. It was getting warmer outside. One could feel it through the thick glass. It was soothing after the Dampness of the rain.
“What you did back there was – admirable,” I said. And I meant it, his beard though.
“It was nothing really.”
“It was a lot actually,” I said and he smiled, in a schoolboy shyness. He rubbed his palms together. They were long and big fingers. What did say about men with long fingers, that they were big down there too, right?
There were four of us remaining in the room. The other two were talking football again. Charley and a guy the called Lekan.
“what is with you men and football, please, can you help me understand?” I asked Charles, the bearded guy.
He smiled. “Football is to us what Telemundo is to you ladies, I guess.”
“I don’t even watch Telemundo,” I said.
“Ehen, that’s a first. My wife won’t let me watch anything else.”
“Really?” I thought, wow, so he’s married. His beard caught the sunlight and it sparkled in a thousand black flashes. I saw a tiny strand of white in it. I wanted to ask him what his wife thought about his beard. Didn’t it irritate her, those prickly things? But better to keep my indifference to myself.
“So, are you hopeful?” I asked.
He thought for a moment before saying, “do you know how many people we beat to get here?”
“Yeah, it’s not easy.”
“If I don’t get it, it will just be one of those things Sha.”
“No experience is wasted.”
“Yeah.” He looked out the window, “but mehn, I need this job.”
“Don’t we all?”
He gave me a sideways glance, “you seem so relaxed.”
“Ah what can I do, no one can change what will be,” I said.
The doors opened again.
The bespectacled guy got up. Seeing him following the lady out, he looked like a Harvard university type. The shut behind them, they were gone.
Three to go.
We waited in silence.
“He is the one.” Said Charles. “I m sure of it.”
I was surprised. “what do you mean?”
“That guy didn’t get any of his education here, ma’am.” He chuckled.
The other guys too thought the same way. They were talking about him. This guy with a lot of beards reminded me of how it was coming up the ladder. You earned your stripes with a lot of competition but it took a toll, it cut deep and left marks. I wondered what he’d done in the past and where he’d worked before. Most importantly how he’d gotten through the world of work with those beards of his. Or did he just start keeping them?
The door opened shortly and the lady was back again. “Akinsiku Olajide.” Out went one of the guys talking football.
“Have you noticed no one comes back here?”
“Yea, I wonder what that means,” I said.
When the doors opened again it was not either of us still. The third guy left. We were the only two in the room now.
“The last man and woman standing,” Charles said.
“We are expecting a baby, I and my wife.”
“Wow, really, congratulations.” I stuck out my hand, he shook it with a smile.
So much more to Charles than his beard. At that moment something happened to the way I felt about him and about men in general, and bearded men in particular. I had stereotyped them so radically. All morning, this stereotype was being peeled off layer after layer. It wasn’t just in that moment, it was in all the encounters that day. Little gestures, small remarks, all of them painted a picture of a very responsible bearded man.
“Why did you do what you did this morning?” I blurted out.
He looked at me as though I was asking him why he said good morning when he greeted.
“It was the proper thing to do, I think.”
“But you didn’t have to. It was the driver’s job.”
“I know, but, you know, him alone in the rain, doing all the work seemed beyond whatever his salary was.” He said.” I mean, it was pouring. Ah, I couldn’t bear it O.”
The door opened.
“Bamgbose Charles.” Came the lady’s call.
Charles got up and told me he enjoyed talking with me. He said it helped reduce his nervousness.
“Wish me luck.”
“See you around,” I said. He left.
I sighed. I didn’t believe in luck. Luck was for the unprepared or the unqualified. And they hardly got anything worth talking about. I was in deep thoughts though about this bearded man.
10 minutes passed and the door opened. Miss Abigail came in. I got up.
“We are ready for you ma.” She said.
We went out into the corridor and down it to the last office on the left. Abigail opened the door and I stepped into a well-furnished office with the stunning view of a beach. A single chair was behind a large office table. I took my seat in it. Behind me on the wall hung the picture of a very attractive young woman, the owner of the company. Me.
“Here ma.” Abigail put them before me, all five files of the other applicants. I opened them. There wasn’t much in the dossiers. Detailed evaluations, deductions, and conclusions. The human resource management people had done a good job.
I smiled, they had picked the Harvard university looking guy. I wasn’t surprised. The position was a very important one. It required someone with brains. And heavy qualifications.
“Thank you, Abigail, that’d be all for now. I’ll send my decision down later.”
I opened the files again, then I picked up my phone and dialed.
“Hello, am I on to Charles?”
“Yes. Who’s this?”
“oh wow, how did you get my number?” he laughed.
“Are you still on the premises?”
“Yes, I am. I think I’m going to get this job. How about you?”
“Can we please have lunch, together?”
“wait, I’ll meet you up.”
We went to a restaurant I have never eaten before. No one knew me there unlike where I usually went.
Bearded Charles, as I came to fondly refer to him afterward, ordered his favorite, amala and gbegiri. I ordered the same. We ate. Then we finished our food.
I sat back and looked at him. “Do you think you will get the job.”
“Naah, I don’t think so.”
“why do you think you won’t?
He looked out the window and then he rubbed his beard, “they were all clean-shaven men. And two women.”
“Yeah, my beard.”
I sighed. He asked me, “how about you? You just might get it, you know.”
I said that was why I wanted to see him.
“You see, that post needs someone with the qualifications.”
“So, I have heard.”
“And the company also needs someone with a heart. A good heart.” I said. “what you did today, in the rain, it meant a lot.”
Charles was looking at me as I explained to him how for a company to grow it does not only rely on qualifications, it also takes a person’s personality into consideration.
“I don’t understand.”
“We are hiring you.”
“Well, actually, basically, me.”
“You? How? Y.. you, you, work there?”
“I own there,” I said simply.
He laughed, “no way, don’t prank me, please.” He looked around, “is there a camera somewhere right now, are we on TV?”
I held his hand, “Charles, I am serious.” I got up. ”Come let’s get back and finalize things with you?”
Outside I made a call to the office.
“The driver is coming for us no,” I said.
“You weren’t an applicant all this time?”
“No, I wasn’t.”
He shook his head in wonder.
“This is how I choose my employees. Not only by their schooling but also by the quality of their heart.”
Charles was speechless.
“And for you, I almost lost a good man for the opportunity by focusing on your beard too. But by their beards, you shall know them.”