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Monday, October 24, 2016

This Loving Heart Of Mine (2)



About a month after my 27th birthday, I was listed along with some other colleagues for advanced courses abroad. Isabella would have come along but she was making a mark in her work place, rapidly boosting the industry that had been drowning before she came along. 

 For the first time in a long time, we had to stay apart for over a year, almost two. Those times were the hardest up to that point in my life. It was worse for her though.

See, Bella had always been needy. She lost her dad to a weak heart during her second year in the university. With her brother so far away, I was all she had and gladly, I took on the ‘man’ roles in her life. She was a very proud lady, resolute and strong-willed but very needy of emotional attachments and reassurances. I was the embodiment of all that for her – her rock. 

So the months we spent apart were very hard. But thank God for ICT, we survived. Eventually, it was over and I raced home. In my hurry, I left my luggage behind at the airport. It was two months before the airline found and returned it.

About six months later, the news all over the country was about the discovery of natural gas in Okirika. All the companies in the country that were even the least bit interested in energy assembled and sent teams down to Okirika.

Among all of us who had been sent abroad for advanced studies, I was the only one who had opted for Natural Gas Analysis and Piping specifications. I had chosen that course over the popular crude oil-drilling courses because I wanted to spend more time at home, with Bella rather than on off-shore field locations as most professionals in the oil field did.

And so my plan backfired. I was chosen as part of the team that would embark on the project for however long it took to discover and acquire rights to the Natural Gas in that area. Depending on how well I did my job, it was capable of launching me all the way to the top – a climb which took decades for even the most zealous oil professionals. 

 Then I tried to sell Bella on it. The opportunity at Okirika was a once-in-a-lifetime one and it would insure our young family’s future for years to come. Besides, I argued, she would be able to visit occasionally. She eventually agreed. Three months later and about nine months after our first separation, I packed my bags again and left my young wife behind.

We both prayed so hard for it to end but the Natural Gas was hard in coming. Our team had tested samples so we were sure that there was indeed a lot of Natural Gas but it was proving very difficult to locate. 

Bella visited once, a month after I had left. The environment was just not conducive with all the dust, dirt and noise of heavy machinery. Besides, I was distracted. The rest of the team ran 12-hour shifts, but I was one of the only two Natural Gas experts on the team. 
This meant that my hours were less predictable. After that one visit, we agreed that she wouldn’t make another of such trips. We telephoned incessantly, mailed each other, even skyped on nights when I could barely keep my eyes open.

Another month passed and I toyed with the idea of taking a week or so off. But Engr. Ndukwe developed an infection. Elderly and much more experienced in the subject of Natural Gas, he had been my mentor on the whole expedition. He was moved out of camp for treatment while I held forte.

Two weeks later, I received a call from the Area Operations Manager himself. Engr. Ndukwe would not be returning to camp; he would play more of a consultancy role from Ibeno. And he had assured the company board that I could handle the responsibilities of Chief Analyst in Okirika. Would I be willing to accept the position? Of course they were willing to send in another expert if I didn’t feel up to it.

I understood what he was really saying. Accepting this would mean more work, more commitment even enslavement but also enormous rewards. If I refused the position however, the company would send in another expert with whom I’d finish the job. 

But after that project, I would never see any high-profile job again. And like most blacklisted professionals, I’d be headed for early retirement – The devil and the deep blue sea. I chose the sea.

Isabella was upset but after I’d explained, she accepted albeit grudgingly that I hadn’t really had any choice. We continued to communicate as much as we could. But as the Natural Gas proved harder to find, the more I felt challenged professionally, and the deeper I dug into the project. 

 My calls receded steadily, my mails stopped abruptly, my text messages got shorter and shorter and eventually stopped. The more time that elapsed between each call, the more hysterical and tearful Bella got over the phone. I understood her personality and absorbed it but with all the pressure of work on me, I soon got irritated.

Couldn’t she see that there was no way I could drop everything and hurry back to Uyo just so I could be with her? Even if I could pull one or two disappearing acts occasionally, what would that say of me in this new leadership role I had been thrown into? 

 Why was she making this so much harder for me when I was clearly doing it for us? For our future? We fought over the phone one time. I yelled at her. About how unsupportive and selfish she was being. 
She yelled back that I was the selfish one, only concerned about promotions and not caring enough to make the kinds of sacrifices she had made for our union. I disconnected the call. And threw my phone across the room.

We did not talk for a while after that. I meant to call back and apologize, even arrange for flowers to be sent to her. But work got in the way. We were gradually closing in on a particularly promising area with lots of wells. 
The other teams were not doing badly either so the competition was tough. We spent weeks at a time on site, analyzing samples and catching scraps of sleep on bunk beds in our make-shift tents. But it turned out to be another ‘empty’.

I returned to base camp weary in body, soul and spirit. I had of course left my phone behind; mobile sets were not allowed on site. There was a multitude of text messages and emails from Bella. The first few were apologetic and entreating. Then they got angrier. She cursed and ranted, as vituperative as ever. The last ones had a resigned tone.

I tried to call her but her number was not available. Besides, I was sour. After the hard time I had just had on site, was a little warm welcome (even if it was electronic) too much to ask? I sent her a brusque mail explaining why I had been out of touch for a while. I typed that I missed her and would she call me back when she got this? Then I climbed into bed and slept for a whole day...

  
  To be continued

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