The day was extremely hot as was usual in Belye. I went to the garage to resume duty. I was hungry but who cared? I had to go to my job. Wow! Sometimes I wonder if my degree was worth it after all. After having spent five academic years that were equivalent to ten years in the regular strike written dates of the Naijarian calendar. So high were my hopes then. A degree and the sky would not just be the limit but the starting point. Ten solid years of headaches and five years of academic frustrations! Four specified and mandatory years for my course and an extra jara dashed by my lecturers – haba! What had they called it then, again? Yes, spill over, that was it. I had spent a lot of money on that course. Forget my school fees; forget all the dues and the various levies imposed on us then. Forget the money for all those compulsory hand-outs (even though they had been banned). Did I just say hand-outs? Forgive me, I meant lecture notes. Strangely, they look, feel and are exactly like the hand-outs and what is more, people still buy them. Baptism was always a quick route and easy resort in this country. It reminds one of the famous story of the Reverend Father who caught his butler (abi na house boy?) eating meat on Good Friday. The Priest asked his boy why he was eating meat on that day (of all days).
“It is fish.” The accused quickly defended.
“Are you trying to say that I am blind?”
“No, Father. You see, the time wey I came here, they bin de call me Obinna. You pour water for my head and I turn to John. Na so me maself, I pour soup on top the meat head change am to fish.”
Oh yes, and so goes the story of the lecture notes. But like I said, let us forget my finances. Let us also forget the suffer-head and midnight oil burnt to pass papers and get marks which scarcely came.
I finally found my way out of school with a gentle man’s degree; a two-two or second class lower. I was very happy because as I said before, it was the beginning of a hope where I would reach beyond the stars. Naturally, after that came the job hunting saga. What boundless opportunities awaited me over there, wow! It was smiles all through for me. I guess one could see my ‘ear to ear’. The general saying I got accustomed to soon enough was “In Naijaria, everyone is a graduate”. This was an indirect way of telling me that I was one of thousands with education and no job, stranded in the job market. “Notin’ for you!” That pointed out to me that the whole cramming and learning just to pass in the university was for nothing.
Oh well, I thank the Almighty for my upbringing. Growing in Warri, the most notorious acclaimed agbero town of my country had taught me a lot. The street gospel had blessed me. I am a worthy ambassador of Warri so I decided to become self employed. This did not come spontaneously though. No, did it? If you think it did, you are wrong. I chanced upon a friend who had a master’s degree and yet was a bike man, an okada man. I was shocked, thinking that the sad plight of joblessness was only for the mere degree graduates like me. He gave me his version of this ‘national anthem’. He did some preaching and I was changed. I saw the gains of self employment and that is where I am now – a conductor, a bus conductor in Belye.
* * * * *
Hunger changes even the best of us. Now, who would blame the prodigal son for wanting to eat pig food? But work calls above the stomach now. Presently, the bus is filled. The usual people and types; the same expressions and talks, only some different faces carry them today. It is so each time. One woman however catches my attention, she is Fulani and she has a tin with her. I wonder what might be inside. The Fulanis (their women at least) are always with cow milk or nono as they call it. For sure, I know that tin contains nono. To think that I have not eaten since yesterday… it is going to be an hour’s journey so there will be enough time.
As if I knew it, the Fulani woman’s face looks sickened. I guess it is the journey. Most of them get sick after we drive a while. She still holds unto the tin but I must take my focus from her lest she becomes suspicious. She is however soon asleep and since all the passengers seem to be the ‘I don’t care’ sort, I quietly carry the tin. No one is even giving me any attention. I open the lid quietly and soon the contents go down my throat in one long greedy gulp.
The journey ends soon, money is collected and as the Fulani woman gets ready to alight, she notices that her special tin is missing. There is a look of worry written on her face or is it concern?
“Wai ya doka rago na?” Probably “Who took my tin?”
“Ni ne na doka. Na sha nonon ki.” I know a bit of Hausa too and smilingly confess my crime in a little charged voice to cover the deep shame of my heart. Someone notes I am rude and taking advantage of the old woman. The lady does not seem to note my rudeness and in a very silent voice says something close to:
“Aya, da na! Abunde kan sha ba nono ba ne – amei na ne!” My face goes pale as all smiles leave my being. In her simple terms; “Oh my son. What you drank was not nono –it was my vomit!”
© Su’eddie Agema (2008) An early version of this was posted on this blog 2010, 30th August