February 3, 2016
“Food is ready.” Your wife, Hannah announce as she sets the plates of steaming Amala and gbegiri soup in front of you. There are lots of thoughts jostling for attention in your head. Food is not one of them. You simply are in no mood to perceive the delicious aroma oozing from the gbegiri.
On other days when you were in the right frame of mind, you would be all over the food, sweating and grunting like an animal caught in a trap. But today, food is not the last thing on your mind; it is simply not on your mind at all.
You watch her place a cup of water in front of you and watch her bottoms roll as she walked away. In times when you were in the right frame of mind, you would have paused from eating and remarked, “Chai! O-bebe, after I finish this physical food, I am coming to enjoy that spiritual food o,” and she would reply, “Na the only thing you sabi be that. Yeye man.” But today, both the physical and the “spiritual” food are not even on your mind.
You push the food aside, place your two legs on the table and throw your head backwards. You allow your mind to wander back to the events of the last nine hours. You wonder who you saw first this morning. Your people have always believed that the first person you see in the morning has the ability to determine the course your day takes. If you see someone with ill-luck first, you must go back to bed and sleep, else your day will be filled with too many ill-lucks. But for you, how can you even make that work when you must be at work by seven thirty AM? If you see someone you think has ill-luck at six forty-five AM and you go back to bed and wake up at nine AM, how long will it take before you amass enough queries to lose five jobs?
Still, you try to remember who you saw first in the morning. Was it the S.U.3 woman who rumour has it that she goes to sleep over at a Deacon’s house overnight and to avoid raising eyebrows when she enters very early in the morning, takes a megaphone with her and does “morning cry4” in the morning? Or was it Rasaki, the okada5 rider that carries robbers for their ‘operations’ overnight, returns very early and sleeps throughout the day when real okada riders with no other ‘side jobs’ are busy hustling. You simply cannot remember who you saw first. But you know you must have seen someone with an overdose of ill-luck for your day to have turned out the way it did.
You remember getting to work at seven twenty-seven AM to meet the boss waiting for you in front of your office. “Lanre, step into my office, please.” The tone of voice and the serious way the boss walked away gave you instant goose bumps. You had dropped your bag and hurriedly joined the boss in his office.
The boss was pacing the office when you walked in. “Close the door and sit down.” The boss said sharply without looking up and without stopping the pacing.
You had closed the door and replied, “Oga6, please let me stand up.”
He had looked at you for the first time, like a doctor looks at a deranged patient whose case he knows is hopeless. “You want to stand up while I talk? Are you ok? My friend, sit down!” He commanded.
You had sat down hurriedly, with the tip of your bottom barely touching the chair and your legs extending forward. You had folded your hands inbetween your laps as you awaited the verdict. You don’t get called into the boss’ office by the boss himself very early in the morning unless you had committed a mortal sin that cannot receive forgiveness. You remained seated, waiting for the boss to either stop the pacing and speak or speak as he continued to pace.
“Lanre,” he began finally, still pacing. You had answered, your voice shaking, “Ssss-sah, sah!”
“How long have you been in this company?”
You had thought very quickly and counted on your fingers. You have never been good in mathematics. “Thirteen years sah!”
“Ta-tin yias.” The boss repeated, his Ibadan accent coming to the fore. You had become more scared. They say a man’s accent only comes out when he is angry, or when he wants to do something bad. Like the way “our oil” becomes “awa oyel” when Tompolo7 needs to give reasons why Jonathan8 should be allowed to continue ruling Nigeria, or the way seventy million becomes “sebenty million” when Buhari9 needs to emphasize how much his predecessors stole. That thought sent shivers down your spine. “Ta-tin yias.” The boss said again, jarring you back to reality rather forcefully. “Yes sah!” You replied him, quite unnecessarily.
“You started as a cleaner, no?” You had nodded and replied, “Yes sah!” He had continued, “From there, you finished school and became a clerk. You continued rising until you got to where you are now: an assistant sales manager. Do you know why you rose that fast?”
In your head, you had thought about his words. Thirteen years to climb four ladders is his definition of fast? The three ladies that came five years after you had all climbed on and left you and had been transfered to head new branches of your company in other states even though they had no clearly-defined roles other than making the boss laugh raccously in his office every minute of the day. Still you replied, “No sir.”
“It was because of your diligence, punctuality and loyalty.” He bellowed and finally stopped pacing. He stood there smiling down at you, his eyes glinting the way you imagined Newton’s eyes must have glinted when that fruit fell on his head, though you have always thought he wouldn’t have found the subject of gravity worthy of further exploration if a coconut had fallen on his head instead. You looked up at him, still smiling, waiting. You remember thinking to yourself that, what was he waiting for? Was he waiting for you to clap for him for his theatrical ability? You wanted to hiss and tell him, “Oga, did you win lottery this morning? Abeg conclude this sermon and let me observe my early morning two-hour power nap before I resume work.” Instead, you had looked down at your hands and said, “Thank you sir.”
You had remained seated and watched open-mouthed as he launched into a speech you have heard too many times. “Do you know how I got the money to start this company? I worked! I wasn’t always this rich. I once suffered! But I was hardworking and my hardwork paid off. That is why I like hardworking people. If you are hardworking, I can push you up the ladder so fast that you won’t remember what the ground floor looks like.”
You had smiled inside. Those ladies whose job description was “making the boss laugh” must have been so hardworking that he had pushed them too far up the ladder to even see them himself.
“Not to take too much of your time,” his voice floated back. You had heaved a sigh of relief — again inside. You had thought to yourself that “to stop taking too much of your time” is what he should have said. “I have decided that I want you to be the new boss of our branch at Egbeda10. The person I put in charge there has proved to be grossly incompetent. Yes, the place is a mess but I know that with you…”
You were no longer listening to him. He could be chanting incantations then for all you cared. Only two words kept ringing in your ears: “you”, “boss”. Finally, you had been recognized, you thought. You wanted to jump up, hug the boss and sing three tracks of Ayefele’s11 music to him. And to think that when he called you in, you thought he was going to fire you. You had thought he found out about your two-hour power nap daily, or about the fact that you mimicked the way he talked in the staff canteen during lunch hours while everyone laughed.
“…a total overhaul of personnel in that branch is necessary, but I believe in your leadership ability.” He had concluded.
You were all smiles. “Thank you sir. Thanks a lot sir. I am determined to repay the belief you have in me.” Suddenly he looked so handsome to you. You couldn’t believe you ever saw the eighteen tribal marks that adorned his face as anything but beautiful. He looked handsome; may goodness and mercy follow the person who carved those marks on his face.
He had brought out some documents that he said reflected your new status and asked that you put your signature on all of them. He handed you each document himself so fast that you couldn’t stop to read what was written on the documents. You kept on signing, smiling to yourself about how your signature had gone from being just another signature to being “the” signature. As you signed the last document, he said, “Oh! By the way, let’s still keep this talk about the promotion under wraps. Let it stay between me and you until maybe next week when we will make the announcement at an elaborate ceremony.” You had nodded and said thanks.
Back in your office, you missed your two-hour power nap for the first time in seven years that day. No matter how much you tried, sleep eluded you. You imagined yourself sitting behind a large table at the Egbeda office. You imagined a hush falling on the office each time you stepped into the office. You imagined all the staff of your company greeting you, “Good morning sir!” and trying to outdo themselves, carrying your bag. How could sleep come with that line of thought.
That afternoon, as you stepped into the staff canteen during lunch, you heard the usual culprits debating what crime the boss committed that pissed off his parents so much that they didn’t stop at two, four, or even eight, but went all the way and carved eighteen tribal marks on a human face. You heard someone exclaim that the boss’ parents deserved a Nobel Prize for wickedness. They waved you over and repeated the joke. But you simply shook your head and replied, “His parents must have had reasons for that. He still looks handsome to me though.”
Your co-workers had stared at you, open-mouthed. One of them reached over and felt your temperature.
“Are you ill?” Another asked.
You shook your head. “Did the boss hit you with charm? I heard that Ibadan people have an abundance of that. They can hit you with charm and you will be urinating from your ears. They can hit you with another and you who have never stepped foot on the Seme border not to talk of travelling out of the country, will speak German so fluently that you will make the owners of the language green with envy.” Again, you shook your head.
“Then what is wrong with you?” The oldest among the group asked.
You had sighed. “I just don’t think it is alright to insult people before we get to know them.”
“Wait o,” a young man that lived two houses from you said, “Don’t tell me you listened to the message of that S.U woman that does “morning cry” daily on her way from the Deacon’s house. What’s her name again, errm, ehen, Sister Christie. That woman can fuck a healthy dick into a state of acute comatose. The last time I saw the Deacon, he was using a walking stick.”
“It’s not that,” you had replied. “I just think we will all become bosses one day, would we like people talking evil about us behind our backs?”
You watched as one by one, your co-workers stood up and wordlessly moved to another table. You had shrugged. Some will say failure has no friends, but for you, success too has no friends. The higher you climb, the more weight you have to shed.
It wasn’t until you got back to your office after lunch that certain realities began to jump out at you. First it was the picture of the boss in a newspaper, with the news headline: “BUSINESS MOGUL BEING INVESTIGATED FOR FRAUD”. You had gone on to read the story and realized that there was no Egbeda branch. Or at least, there had been no Egbeda branch for about four months now. You had read on, and seen that the only statement the boss gave about the investigation yesterday was that he was innocent but had found the person responsible for perpetrating the fraud and would make his identity and other documents as proof known to security operatives the next day.
And then it all came rushing back to you. You had been surprised when you were told two months ago that the boss had placed a temporary ban on reading newspapers in the office. He had cancelled the deal your company had with the newspaper vendor that delivered newspapers every morning. The excuse he gave was that the time it took to read newspapers could be better used for more productive things. He knew you all well enough to know that none of you would use your money to buy newspapers and none of you really had time to read the news from your phones. In fact, the only reason why you had the newspaper with you was because of the sports segment. Arsenal had yesterday beaten Manchester United blue-black. You wanted to read the comments, the jeers and the boos. You had afterall been an Arsenal fan since the days of Kanu Nwankwo at Arsenal and had never witnessed Arsenal coming all out like that against Manchester United and humbling them. It was an earth-shaking event for your club and you’d be damned if you didn’t revel in the moment. Who knew when such an opportunity would present itself again? Probably in 200 years.
Again it hit you, maybe that was why the boss was handing you the documents very quickly, not giving you any chance to read what was written there. You had picked up the newspaper and had headed for his office to demand an explanation. You got to his office to discover it was locked. He and his secretary were nowhere to be found. You had sat on the floor with your hands on your head before you decided to go back to your office and await what would happen next.
It happened an hour later. You heard whispers first and then heard someone ask roughly, “Where is Lanre Gbadamosi’s office?”
You had sat up, opened your laptop computer and pretended to be working on it. The door to your office had flown open and three tall men in uniform with AK-47 guns hanging from their shoulder had barged in. “Are you Mr Lanre Gbadamosi?” You nodded. Before you could ask, “How can I help you?”, they had produced a handcuff and were attempting to place your hands in it.
You had stepped back and hidden your hands behind your back, while you said, with the last shred of dignity you had left, “You can’t just badge into my office and attempt to cuff me without knowing what I have done. I am a citizen of this country, I have rights and I know them.”
“You still dey speak oyinbo12 abi?” One of the uniformed men replied. “No worry, when you reach ‘Area D’ for Eleweran13, you go forget oyinbo begin dey yarn14 for your dialect.”
They tried to cuff you again and when you stepped back, one of them kicked your leg, trying to trip you. You stumbled but grabbed a table and was back on your feet. You remembered what your father once told you, “Only two sets of people can survive in this country: people who have money and people who have mouth. Try to have money, but if you don’t have money, please have mouth.” You glared at the men and picked up your phone. “See, let me warn you about the line of action you are about to embark on. I have connections. Whoever put you up to this will not be powerful enough to stop you from getting fired and spending the rest of your life in debt after I sue your asses off. All it takes is a phone call and your lives as you know it would be over.”
You watch them back off and converse among themselves with you still holding the phone up. You almost smiled. Your father was right afterall. The highest ranking phone number you had on your phone was that of your aboki15 friend that sold suya16 two streets from your house.
You had watched as they spoke in hushed tones and finally turned to you and said, “We are sorry. But we need to ask you some questions. Where can we talk?” Your office was too small, so you figured the canteen would be empty. “Come this way, please.” You had led the way to the canteen and sat down. You watched calmly as the three of them sat down on the bench opposite you.
They asked you questions about fraud and money-laundering. They asked if you had any jobs before you joined this company and if yes, why you left. They asked to see your handwriting and asked if they could take samples of it to the office. You said, of course. Finally, they asked you where you lived. You asked why. They said they had to watch you to be sure you don’t skip town. You said you had lived your whole life here and wouldn’t know where to go. They insisted. You insistedly said no too.
One of the officers who was Yoruba like you tried to explain the situation to you, “Wo, omo iya17, we speak the same language. Let me not deceive you, this is the best deal you will get for now, at least till Monday. The other alternative is for us to take you to our office and detain you till Monday. We’ll be well within our rights to do that.” You had thought furiously. What would Hannah think if she saw policemen at her doorstep. As if on cue, one of the men replied, “We’ll be discreet with the watching. We won’t be in uniform. No one will know who we are or that we are watching.” You had nodded and said okay. You gave them your house address and directions. They said it wasn’t necessary, that they would follow you at a reasonable distance when you left work. You said thanks and went back to your office as they went outside to wait.
Now, sitting inside your house with your head thrown backwards, you think of the policemen. They have been true to their words. You can’t see them but you know they are there. Most importantly, Hannah is oblivious of their presence. To her, today is just another day.
Hannah comes back into the living room and meets your food untouched. She’s worried instantly. “Lanre, kilode18? Are you okay?” You simply stare at her, your brain too tired to form a reply, your lips too heavy to move, your head too heavy to nod. She rushes to your side, feels your body, removes your legs from the table and place them firmly on the floor. “What’s wrong? Why are you not eating?”
Finally, your brain, head and lips unite to give her a reply, not minding how incoherent it is. “I’m okay. I’m just not hungry.”
Very quickly, rage takes the place of concern in her face. “”I’m just not hungry.”” She mimicks you. “When you knew you were “just not hungry”, why did you let me go through the stress of cooking your favorite meal, ehn?”
“Not today, Hannah, not today,” you reply as you stand up and head to the bedroom. You hear her shouting after you that when you come back from work next time and you don’t meet food, you should not complain.
That night as you lie on the bed, thinking, hoping against hope that sleep will agree to take you, you keep on twisting, thinking furiously of the fix you are in. Hannah is fast asleep after she had tried in vain to get you to make love to her that night. She had pulled, massaged and sucked, but your penis refused to swell, not to talk of nod. Whoever said the penis had a mind of its own should be arrested for misleading the world.
Suddenly, you have a burst of inspiration. Like a vision, you begin to see the events of the day taking shape right before your eyes. You see the boss handing you the documents. He is not looking at you. He is concerned with handing you the next document. You see yourself, you peer over what you are signing. You see the stroke of your hand as you sign. That is not how you append your signature. You look closely. That is not your signature!
You sit up as reality hit you.
Too many emotions are jumping out at you: joy, relief, even tears. You do not know which one to embrace. You begin to remember. You remember it all. You have been practicing the boss’ handwriting and signature for about three weeks now. You had approached him about approving two months’ vacation for you in the United States of America. He had turned you down flat even when you knew that anyone that had worked in the company for five years was entitled to a two-month paid vacation to the US. You heard he would be out of the country for six months beginning from next month and so you had started learning his handwriting and signature in the hope of disappearing before he came back.
Hannah had been against the plan, but you had convinced her. What did you have to lose? You were in a job that only gave big titles that don’t reflect the pay grade. You’ve been working for thirteen years and your salary had not yet crossed the one hundred thousand naira mark. People that started working after you had started earning salary in the range of two hundred thousand naira, but there you were, celebrating big title without the accompanying big pay.
You had figured you had nothing to lose. You would go to the US, attend a conference and a workshop. One of your contacts had promised to help you get a job doing anything till you can get enough money to send home to Hannah that will be enough for you to start a big business back home before you were either caught and deported or before you smuggled yourself back home. You will find a way of settling Ralia, the boss’ secretary. She didn’t look like she wanted much, a new Samsung Galaxy phone should keep her lips sealed. She would remove the memo that had to do with you from the boss’ incoming mail. Everything you wrote since then had been in his handwriting. You had practiced his signature so many times that you could sign it without looking.
You are grinning now. To think that in an amazing turn of circumstances, you had signed his own signature on documents he hoped would carry your own signature. You remember the policemen asking you to confess to them now before your oga submits ‘implicating documents’ on Monday. You smile about it now. When Monday comes and he submits the documents, his eyes will become clear. The gods of your land must be awake and working overtime on your behalf. When this is all over, you must go back home, plait your hair and join your people in worshipping Sango19, the fiery god that uses fire to shield his children from harm.
Suddenly you jump up and shout out for joy. Hannah jerks awake and screams, “Jesus!”. You disarm her with your trademark smile. You see bright headlights come on outside. You know the policemen are awake and active.
“Where is that my food?” You ask a bewildered Hannah.
“What food? You want to eat cold amala in the middle of the night? Lanre, have you started smoking weed?”
Again you smile. “Hannah, I will eat it like that.”
She shakes her head. “Whoever is at the root of your matter, I hope he repents. You know the way to the kitchen, your amala is covered there.”
As you eat, you wish Monday would come already. You want to get to the office and sit with your co-workers again, trading gists and sharing jokes. This is success. Your staying out of jail is success. But maybe this success needs friends.
You look ahead to Monday, to resuming your two-hour power nap right after the police whisk away your soon-to-be ex-boss, to lunch time when you would ask the young man on your street what kind of walking stick the Deacon used, to when you would announce, mimicking the boss that, “Do you know how I got here? I worked my ass off,” and replace it with, “Do you know how I got here? I robbed my country blind.”
You look ahead to Monday. Monday looks like a nice day. Why do people hate Mondays? Let Monday come already. Why do people thank God for Fridays? People should learn to look forward to Mondays too.
Written By James Ogunjimi
FIRST PUBLISHED ON KALAHARI REVIEW, FEBRUARY 2016
1. Amala: A Nigerian food made from yam flour or cassava flour
2. Gbegiri: A Nigerian soup made from beans
3. S.U.: Scripture Union or Suegbe Union (when used derogatorily). It is used to describe those called ‘over-spiritual’ in the Christian faith.
4. Morning cry: An early morning evangelism
5. Okada: A motorcycle
6. Oga: Boss
7. Tompolo: One of the top leaders of the Niger Delta militant group who accepted government amnesty
8. Jonathan: Former Nigerian President
9. Buhari: Nigerian President
10. Egbeda: A town in Lagos state
11. Ayefele: A Nigerian musician
12. Oyinbo: English
13. Eleweran: A Nigerian prison
14. Yarn: Talk/Speak
15. Aboki: (Hausa) Friend
16. Suya: Barbecue
17. Wo, omo iya: (Yoruba) See, my brother
18. Kilode: (Yoruba) What happened?
19. Sango: The Yoruba god of Thunder.