7.22am. It was like world cup final the multitude that assembled on the construction site this morning. Thousands upon thousands of hungry men whose hope for a half-decent meal today rested upon the storey-building now in decking level. There was no way more than one per cent of this mob could work here today but they all remained jammed here, unshaking in their over-confidence, as though the foreman was from Nazareth.
Why didn’t I leave you wonder. Well, I was trapped. I was so trapped I couldn’t move one centimetre left, right or front or back. The man in front of me was not more than a boy but hardship had turned him into rock and he smelt like rotten fish. To have him give way I would have to talk to him—and he might talk to me and the smell would be like opening the city sewage system.
The chap in my right was a fat fellow with a belly as big as seven months pregnancy. If I asked him to make way for me, he might have a miscarriage.
By my left was someone I didn’t really see. I took one look at his hair and I became blind. His hair was so bad it made unkempt hairs look like Romeo. It was as if the hair had been barked with foul egg-water. A dandruff haven. If he had any sense, he would donate his head to the Department of the Study of Bacteria and Other Related Organism instead of looking for work.
The guy behind me was frustration in trousers—his starved mouth, criminal cheekbones and rebellious eyes humbled me. He was here with us but he wasn’t here with us. He had nothing to offer, he couldn’t even afford to pay attention. Life must have given up on him. I left him alone.
The foreman and the contractor were now standing on the scaffold. The contractor was talking into a mega phone. Genius! Public address system to talk to labourers!
‘There are so many of you and we only need eighty labourers,’ he was saying. 80! out of this republic was like taking a mouthful of water out of the Niger. But the contractor should better tread softly. The would-be rejected labourers could destroy the building in seconds. In fact, they can topple a government.
‘This is what we will do,’ the voice of the contractor cracked out. ‘If you know you don’t have a university degree, please leave us.’ Serious dissatisfaction broke out among the labourers. They were saying that this was an insult to labour, that degree-holders should go look for white collar jobs, and leave the field for them, the un-degreed. But they were leaving as they complained. My hope began to rise. Who knows, I could get labourer work courtesy of my degree certificate.
So many of the labourers left including all my neighbours except the dandruff chap. I wondered what university spat this vomit of a being. Or perhaps dandruff had invaded his eardrums and he didn’t hear that he should leave.
Now the remaining labourers were few, but large enough to constitute a national party convention. Too much for the ‘vacancies’. I sighed. The contractor was talking. ‘So many of you, mehn! Now, only master’s degree holders should stay—the rest go.’
Chinekem! Even my degree was insufficient to land me sand-and-cement job. Dismayed (and grateful to leave the dandruff guy) I began to walk away. At the highway I turned and saw about a thousand labourers before the scaffold and heard the employer saying something about Ph.D holders. I laughed in spite of me. You spend years researching and condoling abuses from professors to be called a doctor, then you end up carrying a pan full of liquidated cement on your bald-head to the sky. Hahaha. Soon the contractor might ask for professors. This country is a battle field.
9.17am. There was a small crowd at the newspapers vendor’s. People were reading free newspapers and talking about the latest disease in town. Ebola. They said that the disease had killed thousands in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone and that it was one Liberian Patrick Soya (or Suya, I can’t remember) who brought the disease into Nigeria. They said the disease is so deadly that a mere handshake with a carrier will inflict you, not to talk of hugging or sleeping or eating together. I have now seen the elder brother of HIV Aids. I read some of the headlines:
Ebola Scare in Anambra.
Governor: There is no Ebola in my State.
Escaped Ebola Nurse Should be Shot at Sight—Chidi Mokeme.
Ebola: We are on Top of the Situation—Health Minister.
FG Postpones Schools Resumption Date Indefinitely.
They also said that bats, monkeys and bush meat republic should be avoided as they were Ebola carriers.
‘Please don’t lean on me,’ said a man in three-piece suit whose newspaper I was trying to glance into.
‘It is your father who has Ebola not me.’ I went away. There was this sharp restaurant opposite the vendor across the road. I began to order food even before I sat down. Although I was badly dressed, my confidence oozed with naira. I ordered egusi with eba and cow leg, then fried rice with I-surrender chicken; I ordered a bottle of wine to go with these. Hunger had done me shege and today I would show it that I was no match for it, labourer or no labourer’s job.
When I eat one spoon of rice and second the motion with a slice of chicken hip, I will swallow one ball of eba and tear through cow leg like chewing gum. People were just looking at me as though I was shitting on the table, but I didn’t care. I was having fun, sucking gladly at my fingers when I saw him and my heart stopped beating. He was the three-piece suit guy I had abused at the vendor’s.
‘What do you want?’ I demanded with three-quarter full mouth.
‘I know you took it,’ he said, ‘give it back to me.’
‘Took what? I don’t know what you are talking about!’
His smile didn’t reach his livid eyes. ‘Are you saying you didn’t take my wallet? Now for the last time, give it to me. Pass it to me under the table and I will let the matter die. If you refuse I will raise an alarm and people will gather and search you. I have my international passport and driver’s license in that wallet plus eleven thousand naira.’
People were now staring at us.
‘…If they find the wallet on you, they will lynch you. If you survive the mob, I will have you put in prison for the rest of your miserable life. Gimme the wallet!’
I passed the wallet to him with shaky hand. The smile reached his eyes. ‘You made the right decision.’ He patted my back and was gone.
I looked at the dishes on the table. Now, how would I pay for this mess?
1.30pm. I should be in the Guiness Book of record for the longest breakfast ever eaten. Since that suit guy left with my appetite I had been struggling to eat, and had eaten just one-third of my notorious dish. What was the way out? I needed answers desperately. I didn’t want to close my eyes because this time around Genevieve might come with an AK99. Then I saw Jennifer enter the restaurant and I stamped to my feet with raw hope. ‘Sweet neighbour,’ I hailed.
She didn’t smile but she came and sat at my table.
‘You are a dull guy,’ she said.
I accepted. Whatever she called me, I wasn’t going to argue with my guardian witch. ‘Girl, I need your urgent favour. I need to pay for this.’
She hissed. ‘How long will you live this life? You are either starving or picking pockets to survive. How long will you sustain this?’
I shut my eyes. Witch, witch, witch, how did she know?
‘I have a job for you, bro.’
I opened my eye. ‘The same job that isn’t 100% honest?’
‘I am not interested.’
She shrugged and rose to her feet.
‘Wait. Erm…er… why don’t you pay for my meal then we go home and discuss the job.’
She smiled jeeringly. ‘Now you are talking like one with sense.’
Now I know my life will never remain the same.
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This is where the Diary of the Tin-Head takes a small break. Next month is the most important month in the recent history of Nigeria. Next month will make or mar us. I will be participating in the elections and so won’t have time for humour. If I publish in February it will be strictly political, in the spirit of the moment.
I wish to say thanks to you guys for the journey thus far; every single sentence ever typed in this blog I typed because you are interested. God bless.Please pray for dear country. If we survive the polls we have survived eternity. Then we will return the Tin-Head, a richer and funnier diary. Meanwhile I will like to read your feedbacks, most especially the ghost readers who never comment; do share with us your funniest part of this pitiless series so far. (Who knows, this could be our last post ever *winks*). Really wanna hear from you.
*Clicks champagne glasses* For Hard Voices. For Peace.