Chinelo Ngene: The gift of friendship

by Chinelo Ngene

Julie had just begun to work for us that summer. It is a really big company so typically, I didn’t know everyone who worked with us. For most staff, we only got to see each other at the staff cafeteria during lunch – for those who could make it. For those of us who could, lunch at the cafeteria was usually the time for bonding and forging new friendships.

The first time I’d seen her at the canteen, I’d wondered who she was. It was strange to see someone sit alone in the huge cafeteria hall. You see, in the company, we were proud of our ‘one big happy family’ culture. I remember smiling at her once when I caught her eyes looking my way. That was the last I saw of her for a while.

About a month later, on a Monday morning, just as I drove into the company parking lot, I again caught sight of her dashing into the office building. I’d gone on inside after I parked my car only to meet a slight commotion at the reception area. Apparently, Julie had committed a grave error while completing a customer’s transaction and was receiving a great deal of heat from her supervisor who happened to be friends with me. Some of her colleagues stood around pointing fingers at her and whispering about how she was a terrible staff who totally deserved to get the boot.

As she looked up, I saw a terrible sadness in her eyes and my heart went out to her. I walked over to her, squeezed her shoulders gently and whispered:

“Those guys are morons. They really should get lives.”

She looked up at me and said, “Thank you.” I noticed a smile form on her face, it was the kind that came from gratitude.

I went on later to speak to her supervisor on cutting her some slack this one time and from then on, I took Julie under my wings. I became her lone company at the cafeteria. As it turned out, she lived near me so we got the chance to drive home together after work.

The more time we spent together, the more I realized just how really cool and smart she was. I asked her to hang out with me and my friends, once, for a weekend at the spa and the more I got to know her, the more I grew to love her.

Over the next year, Julie and I became fast friends. I watched her grow from that shy, timid junior staff to a self-assertive associate who knew her onions. She became more sociable, making more friends. She became one who could hold a conversation with anyone without once fidgeting – a major feat for her too. By the end of that financial year, Julie was nominated staff of that year and she had to make an acceptance speech at the year-end staff event.

As the hour approached for her to go up and give her speech in front of over one thousand staff, I saw how nervous she was and I hugged her and said: “You’ll be great, dear. This is what you do best – be great!”

She looked at me with one of those really grateful looks and smiled, “Thanks.”

Her speech was one of gratitude. She thanked everyone – colleagues, friends, family, supervisors. Then, she told of the day she first met me.

That day, she felt overwhelmed. She had intense problems at home and she wasn’t delivering at work. She felt surrounded, stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, as it were. Then, she revealed her plans for the day.

Julie had bought rat poison, enough to knock out a herd. She was going to kill herself when she got home that day.

But, according to her, God had a different plan for her, so he sent a friend – me. That friend brought laughter, comfort, and sunshine into her life. A friend who gave her life a new meaning. “Who could have imagined that a year from that day, I would have excelled at my work, talk less of being Staff of the Year?”

She had looked at me again with that look of eternal gratitude that I had become accustomed to and whispered, “Thank you.”

I had tears pouring down my face, indeed there wasn’t a dry face left in that hall.

Who knew that my little act of kindness had saved a person’s life? Who knew that by extending friendship to that sad and lonely girl, I had not only given her hope but had unwittingly given hope to so many generations unborn?

I no longer underestimate the power of my actions. I learned that the support of a caring friend can impact someone in ways we may not fully understand and appreciate.

Being a true and loyal friend to someone is the best gift you can give. I hope I can give enough of these gifts in my short journey through life.

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