Foreword: This piece is a recount of an unadulterated real life event. Picture a young graduate striving to be employed amidst the gross unemployment quagmire and its attendant stress. He was very broke at that moment too. I’ll tell his story.
My phone gave a familiar ring that cut through the silence and broke the chain of my present activity as I let go of the bolus of eba I’ve learnt to roll very perfectly through years of relishing relationship. (You see, I have a particularly narrow throat that requires that I adjust the mass to standard size, to avoid choking).
Subconsciously, I was determined to cuss the network provider if the message turned out to be one of their many adverts, send MUMU to 5054 for more inspirational texts, and others of the ilk.
I pressed, scrolled and read.
“You are invited for an aptitude test at JohnDoe* grammar school, xxxxxx, Ikeja Lagos on Sat. 21/06/2014 by 9:00am. Enquiry: 0125xxxxx.”
A momentary smile coursed my face but a rather curt fact came bullying it almost immediately. It wasn’t a bad news. In fact, it was a typical confirmation that as far as the suspected tussle between village people and I was concerned, I was winning.
But the truth remained: I was broke. No-rumpled-naira-to-my-name kind of broke.
My cogitation on the matter at hand persisted for several minutes that seemed longer than actual. If push came to shove I have an Uncle I could always approach, but after several asking I’d started feeling like I demand too much. I suddenly noticed my oily fingers had been folded and suspended all the while. Another sight of the matter on the table settled it, my appetite was ever present to comfort me. I rolled, dribbled in soup, and swallowed away.
The day came quickly. I was not entirely motivated to go for the test considering a number of things, but I changed my mind some few minutes to dawn on that day. I donned the usual: a simple shirt well tucked in a black trouser and a seriously polished—but of course, punished—pair of black shoes; all old allies of mine. Judging by the effect of iron on the cotton and that of the black polish cum brush on the leather, you’ll never know how ancient they were. I set out few minutes after 7am.
With common sense, meticulous management (a BSc in Economics will be an additional advantage) and saintly patience at bus stops, five hundred naira was just enough to convey me to the test venue and back. So I thought. One hour two hundred and fifty naira later, I was already in Ikeja.
Career coaches would advise one to do a reconnaissance of the venue prior to the test date (to know the place well, especially if one is not familiar with the address) and arrive the venue at least an hour before the set time on the actual day, but they always somehow forget candidates with limited resources. Broke candidates I mean.
My initial disinterest (hence, my failure to probe), the shallow nature of the address in the invite, my assumption that the venue would be close to the bus stop and accessible, plus the fact that I was new in Lagos all worked like gears in a mesh to drive me into a lurking morass.
The first person I asked had a trace amount of dumbness; he just told me to move to the bus stop and ask, acting all mechanical. The next told me I’ll take a bus going to Maryland and alight on the way. The bright morning suddenly lost it’s lustre, giving way to unpleasant feelings of multiple shades. With the money on me, going anywhere not in the direction of where I was coming from means I’ll be stranded. That is always not good.
I asked the bus driver screaming for passengers like his life depended on it—actually I think it did—for the fare to my destination and he paused, stared at me like he had just been possessed by an unclean albeit quiet spirit, and coarsely let out the cold words, “Hundred naira”.
Urine tugged at my bladder.
“E wole te ba n lo – (come in if you’re going), no time”, he added.
I quickly did the maths and the figure after the equal-to sign was an emaciated one. Stepping in means I’ll be left with a hundred and fifty naira, and three hundred and fifty naira away from home.
The driver watched me in my vacillation and said some not so nice words as I moved past him. Even if he had cursed I wouldn’t have been bothered. I stopped not long after and got lost in thoughts, the kind wherein one weighs the options and then wish for a miracle. I felt someone bump into me and that jerked me back to the typical boisterous Ikeja.
She was a beautiful woman most likely in her very early thirties resting her hand on a small boy with whom she shared a striking resemblance, and an empty bowl clutched in her other hand. Her eyes were shut and they both appeared tired. They stopped not so far away from me to sit beside one of the columns holding the bridge.
Over the years I’ve seen several blind people asking for alms. I’ve even caught one or two faking it; one mistakenly opened one of his previously shut eyes with a speed akin to a strabismus to confirm the denomination I dropped, I met the other placing his rather meat dominated order at a night food joint far away from my apartment back in the university. But she seemed different. Perhaps I was drawn in by her beauty, the blithering innocence on the face of the young boy, the duo’s plain exhaustion, or something that transcends any reason I could probably think of.
Helping them came naturally to me, but at that moment I needed help too, only that I couldn’t get a bowl for myself. I turned around and moved on, but a voice in my head won’t just shut up. Whether it was compassion, empathy, or the good spirit I’m not sure, but the soft voice urged me to drop her money. Common sense kept reiterating the gist that I’ll be left with less, and that I would understand the book of Exodus better if I pursue the path of benevolence.
Soft voice won.
Truth be told, I’ve never been that bold—or stupid—my entire life. I ditched sanity and embraced charity. With another fifty naira note out of the equation, walking was the only way forward. I put on my treking shoes and the long march began. The great plan was to walk to a place where I’ll get the bus for fifty naira and at the junction where Maryland splits from Anthony, I got one.
My mental calculator was on by default to measure the distance from the place by the speeding bus to my stop and then estimate the time it would take to cover the same distance on a pair of black soles. The result was the beginning of wisdom, the genesis of worry.
Mood matters a lot. On a good day I’d listen to the man in suit screening candidates in, but on this day I didn’t. I couldn’t. I just shoved out my invitation, looked straight into his eyes like I was a mother confessor bent on making his life miserable, and then got myself a seat.
After almost two hours of formalities, many accents, and BSc/HND discrimination, the test commenced. It wasn’t a big deal. I made sure I gave my concentration by blocking out the thoughts of the imminent inevitable walk. Without a calculator, lack of focus can make forty-one plus nine equal to four-one-nine.
An hour later, a shrill American accent likely acquired via a month stay in Ghana ended the session.
With a school mate I met there, we walked to the junction and had several talks in between. At the bus stop I told him I would be walking, but surprisingly, he told me it’s okay. My unsolicited announcement was meant to make him ask why I would rather walk, and maybe be of help. Perhaps he was not buoyant as well. I took no offence. Who would have cared if I had packed all the offences in Lagos anyway? He took my messenger pin, shook my hand and waited for a bus.
And the son of man walked away under the sweltering sun. Alone.
In moderate steady strides, I moved on. I definitely won’t turn to a pillar of salt if I did, but I ensured I didn’t look back. Shame is better described as that moment when a familiar pair of eyes in a car, those of the lady you’ve been “toasting” for example, see you walking with laboured alacrity. The said alacrity and improvised distraction got me to Ikeja, and then to Allen junction. My beloved faithful shoes suffered. Legs ached as though they had been roasted over burning coals like corn. Sweat beads trickled down my face as my head boiled from the inside.
But a hundred and fifty naira still adorned my pocket.
With that amount I’ll get to Ojodu Berger and then link my last bus from there. Heavens answered my prayers as a bus pulled over and the conductor yelled “Berger!” at a bold decibel. The rest I didn’t need. That one simple word of two syllables was all I needed in the world at that moment; not food, not Dorobucci, definitely not world cup. I quickly hopped in and we moved.
We passed Secretariat and I was distracted for like two minutes while I skimmed through a devotional guide a lady shared in the bus. The next thing I heard was “Toll gate wa o”. Some passengers would alight at the bus stop “Toll gate”. How?
Conductor was already calling “Obalende CMS!”. Stupid boy, “no time” was probably his motto.
Bloodt of Godt!!!
The very large opening of a mouth and contorted brows in bewilderment would understate my shock. I was entirely on the exact opposite route. Without warning, I screamed out my confusion and other passengers came to my rescue. They confirmed the mix-up and explained that there are two Bergers, but my ears stopped proper functioning not long after that. Conductor had already collected his fare and their pities and talks didn’t make the remaining fifty naira change it’s size or colour into a better note.
Staring at the blank reality; two distant locations connected by a long expressway only a hundred and fifty naira can make short, I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. It won’t even help. I humoured myself and sang in a little worried voice.
“Big Boys Don’t Cry”
But the boy was weeping inside.
And the soft voice interrupted again: all these happened for a reason. I lost my temper and felt like harming something, a soft voice specifically if I could, but as I took the fly-over I found my temper again. I consoled myself and focused on getting home, there’s no point raging over something you can’t punch—or bite.
The faces at the bus stop were very stiff like they were starched, and unfriendly. Many people need to find joy in Lagos for everyone to live in peace and then collectively chant “Eko o ni b’aje”. I waited for almost fifteen minutes but no smiling face came. Eventually I went straight for a driver and started speaking—more like sparking—in fast English.
“I’m going to. . . and right here I’ve got only fifty naira on me. . .”
The idea behind the move was to try intimidating him a bit since he looked like someone’s who’s at least slightly educated. It was just a trial, I had planned to try the opposite—speak correct from the source yoruba to him that is, if he thinks the grammar speaking man called alakowe is another sick-in-the-brain gentleman roaming Lagos highways.
He looked at me, did a brief assessment, and then asked of my destination. I replied him at the speed of an hasty rapper, without the cool phonetic this time. He told me to get in and I didn’t wait for a repeat, before he changes his mind and tells me how tortoise broke its shell on the 3rd Mainland bridge.
I paid the conductor the fifty naira, but he thought I paid for Berger. Obviously the driver forgot to brief him. We got to Berger and I didn’t get down; I curled at a corner like I needed the loo so bad. We moved on and when he started collecting money again, he asked me. I was mute.
I tried to tell him to ask his driver that we’ve settled, but this slim guy I’d like to call atòólé (someone who urinates on bed while sleeping) started ranting. He dealt with me from the depth of his loquacious experience, I had no money to gag the bleating goat. I should have known with the deep tribal marks on his face, would’ve betted with my roomy pocket that whoever wrote them was most likely a serial killer with a bad handwriting. What better foreboding did I need?
Life at times is just a big pot of ill prepared watery beans; a mess through and through. Why should all mishaps in Lagos befall one person in just a day?
First, he thought I was an officer; a person working in a force of some sort, and he so well expressed his hatred for my supposed kind, albeit too loudly. I was so embarrassed. I would have given anything to vanish into thin air but I remained a solid organism as he abused me further. The driver came to my rescue eventually, but the assault I’ve been subjected to was worse than battery.
Worse than battery, charger and charge combined.
Perhaps the little voice was right. Meeting the blind woman probably was not just coincidence. Maybe I had to walk and get exhausted so I can take the wrong bus and miss a worse bus. Maybe the mix-up was just for me to get that important little book from the lady. Maybe. . . .
It could be for any reason at all, and I may never know with certainty, but it was one hell of a day.
I am @jossef69 on twitter.
Would you like to share this?
Let your friends read too.
It’s just a click away ↓