It was the Managing Director of Phillips Consulting, Foluso Phillips’ 50th birthday. Everyone called him FOP, in line with a general house rule that the higher you were in the food chain, the more entitled you were to having your name initialised. He always wore a bow-tie to work, as part of a consistently dapper look. In appearance, he was a cross between Duke Ellington and Denzel Washington’s uncle, with something crisply
We were ushered into his plush over-sized office for the birthday celebration. First of all, Babs, the Financial Controller, gave the eulogy, peppered with the obligatory references to God and Jesus. Then it was FOP’s turn to thank everyone for their contributions and best wishes. After a few minutes of this, FOP invited Pastor ___, another employee, to lead the prayer. Pastor ____ quickly began a prayer which had a call and response structure, with people calling out ‘Amen’ (or rather, ‘Amin’) every now and again, while the pastor drew in breath. After a few minutes of blessing proposals, anointing invoices and thanking Jesus for our clients, he signalled it was time for individual prayer. All thirty or so employees in the room (except me) closed their eyes and started speaking in tongues, their faces bunched up in a furious passion. Some waved arms in the air, others fought with invisible enemies in an imaginary boxing ring. The sound was like putting your ear next to a bee-hive, quickly spun words buzzing through the air, confused, frantic human sounds layering on top of each other. I didn’t know what to do, or where to look. So I stared out of the window at the ships docking at Apapa, while sinking slowly into the carpet.
After a few minutes of conversing with our God, we all had to line up and hug FOP. I have not cringed so much since I was a small child, being kissed by the pursed and rubied lips of some vast smothering Aunty. Thankfully, my turn was quickly over with. I couldn’t help thinking of the Indian mystic whose religious offering is instant enlightenment with one heavenly clasp. Except that enlightenment did not come my way. I was soon to make my exit from the extended Pentecostal family that is Phillips Consulting.