By Damilare Stark
The day couldn't be any more terrible than it already was...at least, that’s what I thought. It was a Monday morning.The most horrible day of the week since it starts another session of a frustrating work reel. This time, Colin over did it. He didn't just in his drunken state mess up the whole apartment, he puked on my work shirt… my only work shirt! …And Colin? He is just this nutcase you will never want to get stuck with as a roommate. Bad news… he is mine. I really can't recollect how we came to be, but sincerely, you don't want to know. All that bothers me now is how I get this mess off my shirt.
I rushed into the streets of Lagos looking like every other hungry money-thirsty private worker. The heavy rainfall from the previous night made the roads all muddy, leaving me with no option but to walk barefoot with my 1990 leather shoe held between my armpits. The oldie had gone through thick and thin with just enough patches to show for its years of loyalty. Still, I was not ready to lose it so soon. I made it to the bus station just in time to see an approaching bus. With my expertise in the daily struggle for shuttles, I wasn't intimidated by the crowd of commuters before me. …In seconds, I got into the bus.
"O wà o! Driver! Please let me come down." I shouted, from behind the vehicle. The arrogant looking driverwith eyes red as crimson, probably from lack of sleep or just too much to drinkkept moving at a constant speed. As he passed my stop, I became infuriated. With my teeth gritting against each other like an angry dog ready to attack, I screamed at him threatening to shove his manhood down his throat…through his innards… back to where it belongs. Other passengers, realizing that he neglected my plea, rained all sorts of abuses on him in each of their local dialect. …In a grumble he brought the bus to a halt. Now that I was out, there was no point brawling, neither was there time to confront the obviously unconcerned driver. I took the shortest path as I ran to the office… hoping not to meet the dreaded 'Head of Communications' on the way.
I jogged half way into the lobby with heavy balls of sweat dripping down my forehead. Even my fake stride after the jog didn’t seem to conceal the fact I was late "You are late again," a voice spoke softly from behind me, enveloping my mud-stained shoes…crawling up to my knees…holding me in a vise of fear, with my legs threatening to betray me at the very sound of these words. In a startle, I stood completely stilltoo afraid to speak. I turned slightly towards the voice’s direction, laying out my options before my judging conscience.
"…Oh my God!" I made an exaggerated sigh. It was just Ifeoma… a colleague. I couldn't give her the satisfaction of thinking she scared me because she was just another busybody who in no time will spread the news of how 'big Segun' got scared of 'little Ifeoma'.
"Hi Ifeoma! Can you just go about your own business pretending you never saw me?" I responded in a snarl. "Well, you also should stop resuming late, Mr. Latecomer." She said…poking me as she walked away with a smirk dancing by the corners of her face.
James the janitor was just finishing with my work area. He always gives me ‘the chills’ with the way he stares at me; his eyes piercing through like he is searching for something vile in my head. He is the creepy janitor that stares too much... and I don’t trust him. He is just too eccentric to not be crooked.
I settled in my desk ignoring his usual stare as I checked through the leftover files the previous week’s job. It was more of a full day’s work born out of so many days of leftovers. I picked up the phone receiver as I punched the number of the first customer. She was obviously an Igbo woman, considering the name I had on the list- Mrs. Obiora Amarachi.
The other end of the line held still for a second until a continuous and familiar beep broke the silence, piercing through my ears…in no time blending with the stillness…until… “Hello! This is the Obiora’s resident, who am I speaking with?” a squirmy voice inquired Probably the maid.
“This is Segun from TIMBID. I would like to speak with Mrs. Obiora.” I said, in my most courteous tone. The silence that followed my brief introduction was almost deafening. All I could hear was faint mumblings and long screechesprobably from the movement of something heavy.
“Yes? You have me on the line. How may I help you?” a croaky voice but authentic voice broke the silence.
She sounded like a blunt woman who wouldn’t welcome the courtesy of another introduction, so I just went straight to the point.
“Hello Madam! It appears you have an unsettled bill of 5,000,000 Naira. And of course you mean so much to us considering your debts. It’s no longer a—“
“Excuse me! Owe? You’ve got the wrong person…I owe the company nothing.” She said, with a sarcastic laugh.
“No madam! It is plain here that you are yet to refund the sum of money you borrowed and your time for payment is overdue. The company does not do so well with customers that refuse to pay their debts. So, it does you no good playing games with the company. Madam, you have less than one week to respond to this directive before we take drastic decisions you would likely not be comfortable with.”
“Listen! Mr. Segun, like I said, you have the wrong person. I don’t owe the company; there must be a mix up somewhere. I am Mrs. Obiora Amarachi… you should know who I am!”
“Okay madam! I have heard many talk like this… like they own the company, but I will tell you what I tell them; suit yourself, but when we confiscate your assets, then you will understand. Have a good day!”
“Àwón ígbò onígbésè…Àwón ahun” (Igbo debtors...such selfish people) I mumbled as I ended the call.
It was lunch break. I had successfully contacted a reasonable number of 25 customers…precisely debtors! There is always this buzz of excitement that fills the air in TIMBID when it’s break time. It becomes another scene entirely as men with just enough money flaunt around with free food offers, enticing the ladies in the office. At another corner, chitchat will be on…mostly gossips about who the new hot guy or lady is? …who just got fired…a raise or a demotion? …who sleeps with who? …you know…all sorts of filthy conversations that go on in every office. I felt contented with my progress so I decided to award my tired self a nap. Not like I am a fairytale dreamer, but I was having this wonderful dream of owning a mansion with so many cars and ladies around…until I felt a light but steady nudge on my shoulders. ” Nothing is going to make me leave this fantasy” I said to myself. But the bump persisted. I raised my head off the desksluggishly—to take a look at whoever was disturbing me.
“Ifeoma! …What again! Ah! Why can’t you do without pestering me in a day? What do you want? ” I shouted, with a fierce stare. “I wouldn’t be here if the Head of Communications didn’t send for you.” She retorted as she stormed away with anger brimming on her face.
In no time, my lethargic eyes lit open as I replayed in a loop all that Ifeoma said.
“The HOC? ...Oh God! Not again!” “What does he want me for?” I asked an imaginary being.
I re-dressed my table as I stood. Really, I don’t know why I did that… I just did. With much hesitation, I practically dragged myself into the HOC’s office.
“Hello sir!” The stout looking man with his elf-like ears—probably within his fifties—tilted his head towards my direction as he adjusted his tiny lenses to get a better view of me.
“Mr. Segun, when last were you called up here?” he asked. “On Friday sir.” “And before Friday?” he inquired, but this time with resentment all over his face. I knew what he was getting at, but with his approach, I got really nervous. Though the room was fully air conditioned, you could tell I was sweating. He didn’t wait for my reply, he just went on…
“Mr. Segun, for the past one week—every single day—you have been summoned to my office for no reason other than your habitual lateness. Today, you have done the unacceptable. I got a call from one of our largest share holder, who complained of being insulted by a service agent.” “…Segun! You just lost the company a ton of naira.” He screamed as he glared at me with somewhat hatred mixed with disgust.
“I can fix this sir.” I replied, in truthful remorse.
“It’s too late for that Mr. Segun. I am sorry, we are letting you go. The accountant will give you a bill of 14,000 Naira that is your due pay.”
“But sir, I didn’t do anything—“
The whole world became smaller as things crumbled before me. I just lost my job! But what did I do wrong? The obviously deranged woman owes the company, or… she doesn’t? Oh no!
I ran to my desk like a kid who just got the hidden portion of a jigsaw puzzle figured out. The list! I scanned through the list on my desk. For sure, the woman was on the list, but… It dawned on me…the heading of the list… …SHAREHOLDERS TO BE APPRECIATED. ******
The reality of stepping out of TIMBID for the last time struck me to my bones. It was overwhelming. In a matter of seconds, I had become another unemployed Nigerian citizen roaming the streets of Lagos. With my sagged tie and flown out shirt, it was easy for anyone to interpret my ordeal. This time, I boarded one of the big buses newly provided by the government…since they were cheaper, it reduced my travel cost.
I took quite a comfortable standing position at the hub of the bus as thoughts on where? How…how would I start a job search? Who would want to employ me? …I was completely lost in thoughts. Even the inconveniences from the increasing cluster of commuters didn’t seem to bother me. We were half way into the journey when a loud scream bellowed from behind. The chaos was frightening. Every passenger at the far end of the bus made their way to its front. I couldn’t get a look at what was happening, but as a Nigerian, there is never a need to have knowledge or the reason for a panic…you just follow the pack. My size made things easy for me as I pushed anyone...eh…e-very-one on my way, not caring if it was a child or an adult. I got out of the bus with just a scar on my left kneecap—from something I hit during the rush. The few of us that managed to get out were all unsure of what actually had happened or was happening in the still moving bus. I really didn’t care, because somewhere in my heart, I thanked God I was safe. ******
The scorching sun vaunted its anger on the earth, leaving we earthlings to suffer its consequences. It was really a hot day. I got to the closest bus station after about fifteen minutes of trekking. I was so exhausted—from dehydration—and I was hungry. A soft drink hawker stood few feet from me; she was like an angel sent from heaven. I skittered towards her and took a cola drink…gulping every ounce of the drink down my throat. The thirsty dog in me was less satisfied. So I took another, relieving the hound of his cravings. She just stared…blank…not bothered.
“Oga! My money o!" she finally said with contempt oozing from her breath.
"Cool down woman, you will get your money"
I searched my pockets for the 14,000 Naira so I could give her some money from it. Things got tensed…I couldn't find the money. I checked every pocket I had on the trouser even the one in my underpants. Still…nothing!
"Madam, please I don't know what is happening, I can't find my money." I exclaimed. "Oga please don't tell me that one ooo abeg! Give me my money!"
"Please madam, I have been robbed"
A quick flash back at what had happened in the bus earlier flooded my mind. I realized someone did pick my pocket. I begged the woman to let me go considering I had just been robbed, but she just ignored my plea, beckoning on passersby to come see what an ‘opportunist’ I was. A handful of people began to surround me. I explained and I explained, I promised and I promised, and then it began…a quick dash at the back of my neck sent me sprawling on the floor. I neither knew who hit me or where it came from, but a heavy rain of hands and legs showered on me…people beating me here and there. I cried for help—promising to pay back—but they ignored me and kept the grilling on. It was terrible. My clothes were torn to pieces, I was stripped…assaulted beyond recognition.
“Please…” “I…” “Pleeeeeaaaa—“
"Segun! Segun! Segun! Wake up!"
The voice was a familiar one. Yet I wasn't sure if I heard it from the crowd or from my head, but I sure heard someone call me.
"Segun! Its 7:50 am! Wake up!" Colin barked.
I sprang up from my bed… I had been dreaming. My breath was uncontrollable from the shock.
"Segun! You are late for work. You know how your HOC can be." Colin said.
“It was all just a dream? Thank God!” I made my way to the bathroom with a towel hung on my shoulder. A quick look at my shirt was enough to realize it was stained. I went closer as I touched the slimy substance on the shirt. It was vomit!
I think my nightmare just began.