February 12, 7:30am
…thought it was a job interview at a fancy plaza
The plaza was big and fancy. But that is where all similarities end.
“Are you not going to pull off?”
“You don’t want to do the job again?”
“See, the man said we should give him N15,000 a week. At that rate, all we have to do is wash 5 cars a day. Even if we wash 20 cars a day, he doesn’t care. We just give him the money for 5 cars and the rest is ours. So it’s not a bad deal.”
“Has anyone ever washed 20 cars a day here before?”
“See, let’s just try our luck.”
“Supposing one of my former classmates passes by and sees me? What if he even drives his car in here for a wash?”
“Look, do you want this job or not? I bet the landlord is back from his church meeting and is looking for you all around the compound to torment. You want to go back and collect the insults he’s been keeping for you?
“Abeg, change clothe make we start first; at all, at all na him bad pass.”
February 16, 6am
…Should have stayed home
“Wake up! We have to head out to work. This is the best time for customers to come (and to avoid the landlord since he’s at morning mass).”
“Is today not the presidential election day? Do you have money to give police when they arrest us for moving about when there’s restriction of movement?”
“So you are the only one who hasn’t heard that the election has been postponed? Abeg, let’s go. A lot of people will use this free time to bring their cars for washing.”
** ** ** **
“Where is my money? I put it here in the car as I came out to wash this car. Where is it?!”
“Oga, are you sure you…”
“You good for nothing boys have stolen it!”
“Oga, abeg, we didn’t see any money…”
“It was one thousand pounds and about five hundred do…”
“You wretched, good-for-nothing devils have stolen it. No wonder life has cursed you never to prosper…”
“To do menial jobs only…”
“Please Oga, check well…”
“You people are too wicked. Do you know how I suffered to get that money?”
“Mr. owner, I am going to call police, If I come back and they are not here, it is you the police will arrest.”
** ** ** **
“Empty your pockets here.” Tapping the counter.
“What is this?” Using the baton to turn the bundle of money like the contents of a soup pot.
“Oga police, na the money for the washing of…”
“You bad boys refuse to hear word in this country. So una don already change the man money to Naira and this is what una chop remain?”
“Oga police, we said…”
“Shut up! Oya enter back of counter. Your mates have gone to vote and you people are going round robbing people. I say enter counter quick quick!”
** ** ** **
“We will die here today. Nobody will even know we are dead and buried somewhere in the bushes.”
“Our Oga for car wash will not come and bail us?”
“Sometimes you just talk like you fell from the skies. The man also thinks we are guilty. If he even comes it will be to ask us for the day’s takings. Maybe this is our punishment for not going to perform our civic duty.”
“Then it’s a better punishment because out there, we may be at the receiving end of a stray bullet by the military. I will never vote since my vote won’t count.”
** ** ** **
“Oya, you two fools come out here. You can bail yourselves and get out.”
“But Oga police, didn’t the man just come now and report that he has found his money?”
“What are we bailing ourselves from again?”
“Ok. E be like say this one go school. So you go school finish and na car wash you see to do? I hope your parents are not alive to witness this disgrace?”
“Sorry sir. But sir, we don’t have any money to pay.”
“Don’t you have another armed robber friend to call to bail you?”
“No sir. Please sir, can you give us the money we removed from our pockets before we entered the counter. We can pay for our bail from there.”
“You dey craze? That money is evidence.”
“But the man has said he found his money.”
“Oya, go behind the counter. You want to teach me my job? When the patrol van gets here, they’ll bundle you agberos to prison.”
We really, really should have stayed at home.
February 18, 5pm
Mama, don’t call me again
“Yes mama, I am doing well. How was service today? No, I did not go. Does it matter? How are you yourself doing? Sorry to hear the arthritis is still disturbing you.
Yes, it is arthritis mama; you are almost sixty years old and arthritis is a common occurrence at that age, especially for women. No mama, I did not study medicine.
Yes, I’m listening. Yes. Ok. I’m still with you mama. I have heard you mama, but my position is this; don’t call me again if all you are going to tell me is how you have given all your pension to pastor to buy olive oil to pray for me. Or to pray against the person sending arthritis to you.
The reason I don’t have a job is simple. There are more than two hundred million Nigerians and bad leadership has ensured that resources don’t go round for development.
Why would village people be after me? Am I the only young graduate from that community? By the way, how many people are still left in the village to comprise “village people” after herdsmen chased them out?
I am even tired of talking about this. Is that why you want me to get a job, so that I can be giving you money to give pastor to pray?”
February 22, 2pm
“Is your pastor coming to bail you again customer?”
“We don’t know sir.”
“You better know now because my shift will be over by 3. The other police will not be your customer like me.”
“Why don’t you call your sister for help?”
“If my sister was capable of helping I will be living with her and not you.”
“I knew you riff-raffs were actually bad. That man must have lied that he had seen his money.”
“Oga, we did not take that man’s pounds and dollars.”
“And you are also not smoking and selling Indian Hemp even though the task force caught you red-handed?”
“Oga, we are just workers in the laundry shop. We did not know they use the place to smoke igbo. We just started working there as dry-cleaners 3 days ago.”
“Story. Are you people not agberos smoking and jazzing yourself up to go and scatter elections tomorrow? You better bail yourselves before the patrol van gets here. Your other igbo-smoking co-workers know the drill and they have complied and gone back to prepare to snatch ballot boxes for politicians.
Stay there and be forming innocent. Everyone here is innocent. That crazy-looking one inside the jail there that slaughtered his own mother yesterday is also claiming innocent.
Take my phone jare, and call your pastor that came to bail you last time. But he should bring money for my recharge card you people are using, plus money for bail, understand?”
February 23, 8am
“Still not voting two hundred times, even if the election is shifted two hundred times.”
“I am going to another town. To live there.”
“Pastor says that you always like to say negative things. Your spirit is too negative.”
“Like the other Saturday when you said police might arrest us. You said it and it happened.”
“Really? Why is it only the negative things that come true. What of all those times I said I want money, I want money, where is the money?”
“I heard you and your mother talking.”
“You need deliverance.”
“Yes, I need deliverance from idealess leaders.”
“You brother was killed a year to graduation from medical school.”
“What do you mean? My brother had sickle cell anemia, It was a miracle he lived as long as he did.”
“He was bleeding from his nose, and ears, and…”
“He had complications; his liver failed, what are you even talking about?”
“Your once promising sister is running mad…”
“My sister refused to hear word until she was impregnated by her Fine Arts teacher, who had to marry her. Then he lost his job and so they are penniless. Extreme poverty (and regret) may look like madness.”
“Look at what happened to us twice in a row. Someone has stolen your star and doesn’t want you to succeed.”
“Really? Abeg don’t make me laugh. And the person did not see confirm star like Cristiano Ronaldo’s star to steal, he did not see Barack Obama’s star to steal. If someone really wants to steal another person’s star, why can’t he take Serena Williams own?”
“Anyway, I am going. My pastor said you can come for deliverance.”
February 27, 6pm
God, why do you hate me so much?
Is it because I don’t go to church? But Falz the bahd guy doesn’t go to church and he’s teaching more morals than the religious people. And he is also very successful.
“Madam, give me N50 fried yam.”
Five pieces of fried yam only, everyday for five days. Maybe it’s time to return to the village and farm. Maybe the herdsmen have become tired of their guerrilla warfare and gone home.
March 2, 5:30pm
Landlord is angry for some reason
Landlord stormed and raged up and down the compound all day. Then by evening he said, “Find something and do and earn a living.”
“Use that strip of bush in the front of my house.”
A break in the clouds
Woke up by 5am. It was still too dark. By 6am I started clearing the place. So much polyethylene junk and kitchen refuse. This landlord get sense. Kill two birds with one stone; get free labour and prevent further dumping of waste on his sidewalk.
March 5, 11am
Back to sender?
I asked my neighbour who is a carpenter to check what it would take to put up a “bacha” (shed).
He measured up, measured down and told me N35,000. Since I was down to my last N50, I said, “please, can we do a partnership whereby you’ll build the bacha with your materials and expertise and we’ll share the proceeds from the business?”
“Back to sender,” he told me, and left.
I had to call my mother
It had to be done. I had to call my mother and beg her to borrow money from her village women association. I would not have done it if it was only for me to eat. Have I not spent five straight days on N50 fried yam once a day?
This boy came to me. He said he is fifteen years old when I asked. He has five brothers and one sister. His father is a private security guard at a fancy estate. He said he is not in school because his father said no money for school fees this term.
He helped me scavenge for nails and pieces of old wood of which we found a total of zero.
So out of my mother’s five thousand, we took one thousand and bought four pieces of two by two and second-hand polyethylene sheets from mallam.
We put up a shaky shelter. Hopefully the harmattan winds are over.
March 11, 4pm
People really love beans and bread
Been four days since we started. Who knew people liked to eat half-done beans chased down with bread? Any kind of bread; soft, hard, dry like mattress bread. Any bread would do.
We are cooking beans and selling in our bacha of no regrets. People ignored us the first day. Then two sweaty young men with fingers stained by paint came to check us out the second day.
They young men came back on the third day with two other boy-men (not yet a man but not a boy).
Are the “village people” coming?
Really nervous today. It’s approaching a full week since I started a new enterprise. According to my former roommate, the village people were after me.
And from experience they had never let me pass the one week mark.
What form are they going to use to attack me? Is my landlord going to develop a sudden hatred for beans and ask me to quit his premises?
The “village people” did not come
One week today. I kept going out of the bacha to look up and down, up and down.
“Brother, what are you looking for outside?”
Can I tell the boy that I’m looking out for “village people”? They seem to like to take the shape of police when they are coming.
Who knows? Maybe a husband was refusing to eat at home preferring our half-done beans and the angry wife reported to police that we’ve snatched her husband. Real life can be stranger than fiction.
But night finally fell with no police.
I always knew there was nothing like “village people”.
The competition is not happy
People are asking for akamu to go with the beans and bread. So I asked the woman selling akara and akamu across the road to make me a batch of N1,000 akamu.
The woman gave me a stinging look that scorched my toes and I disappeared back to my shop.
Ok, I get it. She’s angry that her customers are coming over to eat the more filling meal of bread and beans that will hold them till evening.
Woman, it’s not my fault that everyone is cutting costs and adjusting their belts tighter. Blame the economy.
With that, I jejely went to the market and bought the akamu there.
People are still eating beans and bread and not purging to the hospital. Thank God.
At the end of the week I will be able to give this boy assisting me N5,000. That’s way more than his father makes in a week, if you divide his N15,000 salary by 4, but I’m not greedy.
I will not lie; the smoke from this wood fire is a b%&$h!
I bought a bottle of really expensive wine to go and thank my landlord.
I immediately regretted it as soon as the salesboy pulled the money from my reluctant hand. Let the man not go and increase my rent or ask me to start paying rent for the little strip of land.
But the landlord was ecstatic and called on his ancestors to protect, guide and double my fortunes.
It looks like I will be able to buy my own Cameroon tripod pot and stop paying Mama Ayo rent to use her own Cameroon pot. God bless beans!
The Keke Napep tricycle that brought my Cameroon pot from the market was yet to leave when people started zipping up and down past the shop.
They were shouting environmental, environmental, environmental. Before I could say environmental myself, some unkempt looking boys and a handful of adult types descended on the shop.
They tore the polyethylene sides and roof off, tipped the wooden tables over. The few hardy customers still munching on their beans scampered off.
The invaders trampled on the rubber plates and burst the bags of pure water. They jumped back into their Hilux truck with my cameroon pots; one with beans still inside it and the other yet to be baptized.
They were men of the Environmental Protection Agency. And they ignored the overflowing, open gutters to destroy and confiscate my (and other people who were not fast enough) livelihood.