The room fell silent as his voice boomed across the conference room. Deep baritone voice that rolled out of his mouth, each word intermittently emphasized with a single tap of his immaculately manicured finger on the wooden conference room table.
“Mr. Salami, you are the one who need to know me. I don’t need to know you. You come in here, unlike many vendors who have in the past, with an air of voyeurism and arrogance unbecoming of a young man like yourself,” there was a short pause as he reached for the case of cigarettes on the table and fished for his lighter.
All eyes, ten pairs in all were glued on Atolani Salami. He was seething and the only thing that has kept him calm so far was the firm grip by Fati Johnson, pumping his palms and beseeching him to exercise restraint against his nature.
Otunba Sim Shagari pumped on his smoke, drawing in it until his lung was full before letting it out slowly in billowy wisps through his nostrils. He waved someone at the table to open one of the room’s windows, “My company has invited you here to discuss terms for the project, I would have expected a better comportment and a more deference demeanor from you during this exercise. But, instead you have come in in a cowboy like manner and you expect us to move forward after this?”
The smoke was beginning to fill the room. Otunba waved his hands again to indicate he had finished his speech.
Fati squeezed Atolani’s hands, this time a double pump. It was a code they had developed over the years – please, don’t be bull-headed. He glanced at her, and her eyes betrayed the message even more.
Atolani squeezed back and stood up, catching everyone by surprise. He calmly walked to the end of the room, subconsciously aware of all the eyes pinned on his six foot tall figure as he did so.
“Good morning again. It is a shame we got off on this foot. If I offended you sir or anyone in this room. I sincerely apologize,” he paused. He could see Fati smiling at him, while the others gazed. But, when he looked at Otunba at the top of the long table smoking and the smirk of self-satisfaction beginning to cross his face, his blood ran hot again. This time, without Fati’s grip to encourage him to sheath his scathing words he let loose.
He was not the kind of person to take a lashing laying down, especially unwarranted and unjustifiable ones.
“We had come out here today out of deep respect for you and your company. We also had hoped for a fruitful and successful negotiations. However, what we did not count on is the veiled insults and name calling we have been greeted with so early into the meeting, ” as he paused for effect he saw that his words have whipped a number from slumber. There were glaring, scornful looks shooting his way. Otunba was now sitting upright in his chair, scowling at him across the table.
He avoided looking at Fati as he continued pointedly looking at the Otunba now ,”it is true that you have made your name. We all know you. What is not true however is that you don’t need to know me,”he paused again taking a moment to let his words travel across the room to envelope Otunba’s bulky frame in cold embrace,” while your name is made I am still making mine and therein lies the danger of discountenancing me with a brush of the hand. And to the contrary, I know you well sir. I have met you three times. Today being the third time. On one occasion, you interviewed me to work in one of your former companies e-view Advertising. I was offered the job on the spot, but opted out because at the time I was working with the leading advertising agency in the country. I believed my prospects better served there than at a new start up. The other time, we were guest speakers at a forum together. Unlike today, those two previous meetings were far more pleasant. Of course, the reason for this isn’t far-fetched,” he paused again allowing the room to suck in all he had said. He wanted the walls to be soaked in his words before he continued. At this point, the Otunba had snuffed out his smoke and had his hands on the table with fingers interlocked,” on those occasions you were and up and coming like myself now. So, perhaps your views about people were a little bit more tempered. But today, myself and my colleague have been put through the wringer unjustiffiably. All I stated was ‘we should get down to business’ like you yourself stated earlier. If that offended you, once again apologies. But, we take exception to being treated so callously and shabbily. Our company is at this table because you consider us your best option to execute this work at a cost reasonable for you. We have worked hard over the years to get here and if you think you don’t need to know us,” Atolani shrugged for dramatic effect before he continued,” Your history is the past and present, ours is the present and the future. We are ready to sit and continue this process or otherwise go if you so wish. ”
The silence in the room was heavy, filled by heavy hearts beating, piles of paper idly shuffling, heads and eyes swiveling to and fro the two principal antagonists in the room. No one spoke as the silence swelled and enveloped them all. It was like an enthralling trance.
Atolani stood where he was, his eyes briefly glancing at Fati and noting with inward satisfaction the look in equal measure of trepidation, awe, pride and love, before locking with those of Otunba.
Otunba’s inscrutable eyes and face hid the several emotions that was flitting through his mind well. Everyone waited for him to break the gripping silence that threatened to suffocate all in the room.
After what seemed like an eternity, Otunba stood up and walked towards Atolani. Again, eyes pinned on him as he made the walk.
“Gentleman, I admire your courage and oratory prowess.”
Confused looks shot across the room, no one knew what to say or do. Atolani stood where he was, unsure if he just lost the contract or there was still hope to get back to business. Either ways, he was satisfied he had spoken up and made his point. His inner nature and demons, who demand justice and fair play at all times have been sated.
“I am sorry we got on to the wrong foot. Now, I think I remember you. At that interview, I asked if you smoke. Do you smoke now?”
“No sir. I don’t smoke still and neither does my colleague,” Atolani replied.
Otunba sighed and turned round to face Fati, “my apologies ma’am. I should have asked for permission. I got used to the fact everyone else did. Please accept my deepest apologies.”
Otunba stretched out his hands, “you have not really changed much though young man. And forgive me for being riled up earlier. It was uncalled for and I put my hands up in apology.”
Atolani took the outstretched hand, doing what he had learned many years ago, be firm with your grip and he the last person to let go. He glanced at Fati again, the twinkle in her eye and pointed tips of her hard nipples on account of her heightened state of excitement were hard to hide
With that handshake Atolani knew he had just won the biggest contract in the advertising industry to date. And it had been won, not by arguing the finer points of the strategy or negotiating the fees and costs, but by simply diplomatically trading the bigger insults.