Between a Life and a Briefcase: A Corruption Tale – PART 1

Bonja looked at his watch and noted that the representative from Triang Square should be in his office in five minutes. He thought of sending a quick text to his latest mistress, but immediately decided against it. She had a habit of calling him each time he texted her.

Her call will most likely come at the middle of his meeting with the European, and if he does not pick, she would accuse him of having an office mistress.

Women and their ways, he thought, as he considered how much to ask for during the meeting. The higher you climb the more complicated and delicate things become. As a junior officer processing primary shipping documents, a blanket sum was collected on each required document.

His task was to look the other way at incomplete and fake documentation and place the ‘Complete and Processed’ stamp on the envelope of cooperating clients. 90 per cent of clients cooperated; the 10 per cent who did cooperate not would go through a long and tortuous route to complete documentation. As the first rung of several levels of officers that clients must “settle” in those days, the exact amount due to Bonja was part of handover instructions left by his colleague who vacated the post. The colleague had been promoted, which translated to higher settlements from clients. As a junior officer, life was simple and fun for Bonja, and he lived within his means.

The more Bonja climbed up the ladder of his career, however, the more comfortable but tougher life became. His wife’s demands grew with his career and his taste grew as well. Now, his women must be top-of-the-range, delectable, well-bred and elegantly constituted, and those came with serious maintenance fees. He works hard – he would always remind himself each time he parted with a heavy check after spending time with any of his five mistresses – nothing wrong with playing hard.  These days, Bonja would only drink aged single malt scotch whiskey and nothing that emits smoke touches his lips that is not Partagas Seri D. He held numerous positions across communities and organizations and whenever he appeared at any of the numerous occasions he received invitations for, he would part with a minimum of one hundred thousand naira. With his last promotion two years earlier, Bonja outgrew Nigerian hospitals and began to travel to Germany for frequent medical check-ups.

Bonja’s thoughts were interrupted when Mr. Farrow walked in with a smile as huge as the metallic silver briefcase he carried under his gangly left arm.

“Bonjay, my friend!”  He exclaimed.

Mr. Farrow paused for a careful moment to place the briefcase on the wall adjacent the glass doors he had been careful to lock behind him.  Arms spread as if conducting an orchestra, Bonja tightly embraced Mr. Farrow, a man he was meeting for the first time. They were close friends; close friends do discreet things together and keep each other’s secrets.

“Very nice office you’ve got here,” Mr. Farrow spoke, still standing and looking around. His eyes rested on the numerous plaques on the long oakwood drawer that ran from one end of the wall to the other. He walked closer to read the inscriptions. Most of them came from Bonja’s village association, his religious group and other organizations congratulating Bonja for some undefined successes.

“Thank you, my friend.” Bonja responded, proud at being so complimented. “But don’t tell me this is anything compared to what you have back in your country. You must invite me to come and see how you people do your own thing over there.”

Mr. Farrow stood smiling and nodding his head as Bonja talked about how bad things were in Nigeria, forgetting to offer his guest a seat, assuming he should know that chairs were meant for seating. By the time he noticed Mr. Farrow’s reluctance to seat without being asked, he motioned his friend to the long couch he uses to avail himself of siesta or for use when any of his mistresses visit.

Both men shared the sofa, with Bonja doing much of the talking, while Mr. Farow kept nodding, smiling and clutching on to his briefcase. There was not much to say on Mr. Farrow’s side, his visit was simply to drop the suitcase and return with the evening flight.

“I hope things change for Nigeria.” Mr. Farrow piqued solemnly in response to the litany of accusations his newly met friend enumerated against his country’s leadership.

Bonja, spreading his hands in a show of frustration and utter resignation, did not wait for Mr. Farrow to complete his sentence, “Change for where? How?  When? When they are busy making nonsense laws that are impeding businesses. Look at your company now, honest business people, but to simply deliver your goods to Nigeria, you are being frustrated by unnecessary bureaucracy. Now, you have to travel thousands of miles just to facilitate what could have been a very simple and easy process.”

“Not at all, Mr. Bonjay; it’s all in a day’s job.”

Mr. Farrow glanced at his watch, then at the door and then at his briefcase.

Bonja got up immediately and turned the lock on the door firmly. He returned to find Mr. Farrow pressing a complex set of numbers on the briefcase. When it opened, it was as expected.

“It is complete, Mr. Bonjay.” Mr. Farrow’s smile was wider than when he first came. It was as if the Euro that filled the briefcase was being handed over to him as a birthday present, instead of to Bonja.

“Thank you, my friend.” Bonja’s dentition threatened to burst through the seams of his thin lips. “You know I could have said let me bring a note counter here to make sure, but I trust you.” He repeated the statement as he stared at the bank notes aiming to count them with his eyes. Even one single Euro missing from a bundle will translate to thousands in Naira. But Europeans can be trusted when it came to such things, Bonja assured himself.

“I am so sorry it came to this.” Bonja finally said. “As soon as you leave here, I am going to take everything to the people who demanded for it. I am not interested in getting anything; my only interest is for your business to benefit everybody in this country.”

Bonja saw Mr. Farrow off to the door, returned and called his newest mistress, the one who loves shopping in France. As he spoke, he was smiling and staring at the Euro notes, now neatly arranged in his own leather briefcase. What a beautiful life, he thought.

Click Here for PART 2

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