Teachers' Reward By Ehichoya
"Teachers' reward is in heaven." Whatever it means, that old barroom saying will be around for a while. But it will only matter if you cannot get yourself to America. That is what I have learnt since I commenced the extant round of job hunting.
The other Tuesday - the day Prime Minister Tony Blair "narrowly escaped rebellion within his Labour Party" by getting a controversial education bill passed by a slim parliamentary majority, and China confirmed it also had avian flu, and Governor Ibori of Nigeria's troubled Delta State read the riot act to leaders of warring ethnic groups - I had gone to the state library, to look up the day's The Guardian. Tuesday Guardian carries the job vacancies and anyone looking for a job in Lagos does well not to miss any.
Now Herbert Macaulay Library, run by the Lagos State Government, has a curious policy as to giving out their papers. Other libraries I have visited give you papers once they get them, but not HML. If you come to the library for the first time, here is what will happen. As you are entering the library, you will see a wooden cabinet with bags on it. As you approach it to keep your bag, the librarian will tell you to come over to where he is. If you put down your bag and make to go toward him, he will tell you to come along with the bag. When you get to his counter, you will see an open long notebook with several columns for your name, address, signature, time of arrival, time of departure, and bag number. After you fill that, he will give you two pieces of paper with the same number written on them. He will then instruct you to put one in your bag and the other in your pocket. If you make to go away, he will tell you that you have not entered the bag number into the register. You will then enter the number on the tags you were given into the appropriate column. After returning your bag to the cabinet you will tell him you want to read the day's The Guardian, satisfied in your mind that you are early and so no one would be in possession of it already. Indeed, no one would have picked it up, but you will be informed that you cannot read it yet because the newspapers are not given out until 12 noon. Stunned by this, you ask why. He replies curtly that that is how they do it.
What to do? I picked up my bag and went to a cybercafé in Sabo. I had no email. I checked a neighbour's office nearby but he was not there. By now it was around 10. I had no other place planned for that morning and it would cost some extra money to go home and come back. So I returned to the library. I picked up some old magazines from the magazine rack - there were no recent ones - settled down somewhere and began to read about "first ladies" going on the rampage with state funds, Governor Kwankwaso dropping the "Dr" title from his name to avoid being accused of something with a name like a fellow party man of his, and angst over yet another Venus-Serena Wimbledon finals.
By 12 there were up to four people waiting to go through the paper besides me. I was asked to deposit my identity card before collecting it. I had no valid ID card since I had no job and did not have an international passport or a driving licence. After some argument, the librarian accepted an outdated school library card. I was told I had only 15 minutes to use the paper. The newspaper had about 95 pages.
I covered it in the time, almost certain I missed some of the ads in my haste. But my haste was not such that I could not read a certain ad captioned "Teachers' Reward Now in America". It said someone was recruiting teachers to go fill some vacancies in America. I paid scant attention to it as I did not feel I had the qualifications for that sort of thing.
I am primarily on the lookout for secretarial jobs, for which, to begin with, I am of the wrong gender. With the economic situation, one has to think of many things one can do. But starting out in business doesn't come easy as there is a long list of issues with capital, infrastructure and space.
If you cannot conquer these huddles, you do the right thing - begin looking in the Tuesday Guardian and writing applications.
The following Tuesday - the day an anti-terrorism conference commenced in Indonesia, and US Democrats held caucuses in six states, and Blair instituted an inquiry to throw more light on "pre-war intelligence" - I was back in the library. As was becoming the new practice, the librarian vouchsafed me 15 minutes. I felt there ought to be more time and exhaled slowly. For the next 30 minutes, I had the paper to myself. I think he forgot and there was no one pestering him. On a particular page there were many ads, many of them in very small prints. There was one headed "Very Urgent". It listed almost every conceivable job, from "factory workers" to "hotel administrators". I once answered that sort of ad and it turned out to be successful – for the advertisers. They had my five hundred naira by the time it was over.
I had seen the ad in a Tuesday Guardian and went to answer it right away, considering that it sounded promising and had an overriding note of urgency about it. The outfit is located near Oshodi, a notoriously rowdy and grimy bus terminus.
When I got to the premises of PSS Limited, there were several other people waiting, some were leaving, some were coming in - the place was a Mecca of sorts. The young man who attended to me and my fellow scavengers was good-looking, debonair, and had the gift of the gab. Not that he particularly needed the last - I was a Lagos bloke after a job and burrowing everywhere to find one. He gave me a prospectus to study. It indicated that the firm had several places lined up I could be sent to work. That when I was sent to a place, I could always come back for reposting if I did not like it. After walking the streets of this city for jobs that remained a mirage, I could simply pick one today! It was too good to be true. What was in it for them? Well, not much, the situation considered. It said if you were ordinary level, you were required to pay three hundred naira; for a university or polytechnic graduate, five hundred naira; and for a post-graduate, one thousand naira. Then when you get the job, half of your first month's salary would come to them. Given a good job, I would give that with blessings.
When it got to my turn to be attended to by the dapper chap, he had me realise that considering my record, mine was going to be as easy as picking wall nuts. I whipped three hundred naira out of my pocket to pay and be sent to my company to be interviewed right away. But he would not suffer me denigrate myself in such a manner. Having read my curriculum vitae, he was persuaded that I was in the category of N500. (Now, I am not a university graduate. What got him was the word "Diploma" which appeared somewhere in the second page of the document.) Why was I bringing myself down? the young man expostulated. Did I not want to get a job that befitted my status?
Of course, I should have sensed that something was not right with this caper. Why? Because of the very reason that brought me to this place. I could not find a job because of long established economic principles. There is at worst a diminution of the economic space, at best a stagnation or an insignificant growth. And there is a glut in the supply of labour. Working old men were taking the tint to their hair, and the scalpel to their years, to stay on at their jobs till death do them part. The result of all these is too many people not working or underemployed. Why, the apocalyptic reality of the situation was recently brought home when the National Assembly in Abuja declared about 400 vacancies. It got 30,000 applications! When I saw the number in the papers, I thought I might apply for a job reading CVs. But these civil service jobs are based entirely on patronage and backscratching. So how could these Oshodiside people, on top of all these, have jobs for everyone who dropped by their premises?
I wanted a job which befitted my great status so I forked out five hundred. I was instantly "posted" to a place at Soji Odepenga Close in Ikeja.
When I got there I found it was a "business centre" - a place where people make phone calls and pay to have their documents typed. This one also rendered Internet services. Now, I am not hot for business centres. But I was prepared to accept anything for temporary purposes. When I showed the proprietor my "introduction letter", she murmured that she did not request for someone from these people, had never heard of them. She asked me to sit down all the same and gave me an interview. My typing speed was awesome, she said, but I was poor in graphics design. Well said, for I had no much experience in graphics since I had not worked much in an environment that used it. What would I like to be paid? What I mentioned was too much for her, she said. Maybe an office would pay that much, she told me, but not a business centre. She offered to pay me five thousand naira per month. Since I lived far from Ikeja, cost of transportation would have rendered this unprofitable.
I could not go back to PSS that day because the money I had left on me would barely take me home. That is one problem you usually face in this business of looking for a job – money. You are not earning yet you spend a lot mailing application letters that do not get replied.
I never went back to PSS because I could not afford to waste any money going to Oshodi, sure nothing was going to come out of it. Not after an acquaintance told me that what they do is to keep sending you to place after place, hoping you will get employed somewhere - and not really caring, I believe, if you do not.
Anyway, all that happened the last time I was looking for a job. That is, before I got my last job, the one I just quit. That is what has brought on the latest round of search. Why would anyone give up a job which is apparently "stable" in this sort of environment? My cousin would not understand why anyone would act so strange, when he had no option. Well, it was not a great job and a lot of bad things happened. I won't bore you.
I recall the day I was interviewed by the boss for that job. He said he would pay fifteen thousand naira. That was what he agreed to with the consultant that recruited me for him. But it appears he decided this amount was too much, because he told me he would pay thirteen thousand naira for the first six months, which would amount to "probation" period. I knew this was blarney, a ploy to bring down the amount. Apapa was far from where I lived so transportation would still take a good proportion of this amount. But it would provide some food and pay the house rent. Not necessarily in that order – in Lagos. So, fine. But the next day when I went back to see the boss with recommendation letters as agreed, he had a surprise for me. It was twelve thousand five hundred naira, not thirteen thousand, that he said he would pay. No, it was 13, not 12.5, that you said, sir. He repeated himself and put a look on his face that said, "you can always go out the door". Of course, he won. I will not give you a prize for guessing who won.
Of course, there was no increase after "probation". The appointment letter had said nothing about an increase.
And then things happened and I was terribly disenchanted with the setup. One day, I gave it up. That decision has seen me out in the present cold, walking the streets in search of a job. Since giving up the job, I have taken a couple of bold steps towards the direction of starting something of my own, but I have not had much success. Before quitting the last job I had had a discussion with the proprietor of a computer school not far from my pad. I took up a job teaching there. But the school has since folded up because there were too few students enrolling. To think of the enormous amount the MD was paying for the premises and to run the place. Just the sort of encouragement people like me need to go into business.
So having left my job, I am left with nothing. I have failed in my efforts to start something of my own or to secure another job so far. Still it is one relief to be out of that place.
Back to the present.
I studied the page with the thousand ads. These days I can pick that kind of job agency out of a thousand. For on another occasion I had answered an "urgent" ad for "secretaries" and "apply in person with CV" at Bariga. Something warned me about this. Bariga is hardly the sort of place you expect to find a job. But in this job of job seeking, you follow every scent. So I went to Bariga. The single-room affair, when I got there, was also packed like feeding time in a refugee camp. This time I did not pay. I told the gentleman who attended to me that I would come back, that I did not know about the money and so had not come with it.
These days I simply avoid them - small space, tiny prints, too many disparate posts advertised, urgent, apply in person, and so on. I turned the page and got to a page with a wonderful ad for teachers in Secretarial Studies in a computer school somewhere at Alagbado in the suburbs of Lagos. It listed that you must be able to teach Typing, Shorthand, Office Practice, Secretarial Duties and Business Communication. It was just my thing. But I had to decide whether I would go or not. Alagbado is quite far from where I live. The cost of transportation these days is in the sky. And since the price of petrol now goes up every other week, it would be suicidal to pick a poorly paying job at a place that far. But why not check it out and see how it pays? After all, a poorly paying job was better than none; at least, that is the conventional wisdom. Besides, Alagbado was much closer than America where teachers' reward was said to have migrated.
While still trying to make up my mind whether to go, I went to meet Sunny, my neighbour who has probably been living in Lagos since it was ceded to Queen Victoria. I asked him how you got to Alagbado. "You want to go?" He invariably starts answering you with a question of his own. Why not take the train, he suggested. Train! I had never entered a train in spite of having lived near the Railway Corporation these past two years. Why, everyone knows trains do not work in this country, the corporation having derailed many years ago. They do, he told me. There was a train that goes to Alagbado at about 9AM. Whereas it would cost me over a hundred just to get there by bus, it would cost me one hundred and twenty to go and return by train. I thanked him.
So the following morning - the day, in South Africa, people were advised to switch off their mobile phones to protest high tariffs, in Pakistan father of the bomb A.Q. Khan apologised to his "traumatised nation" for his open-handedness in spreading the nukes to some have-nots, and in Nigeria the head of the country's financial crimes outfit spoke to the press about his biggest "419" fraud burst - I rushed to the post office to post the applications for the other likely ads I had picked up, about six of them.
These letters hardly get replied. They get too many applications and some organisations advertise to keep the books straight, having already picked someone close to "the house".
But the man dies who stops hoping so I always send in an application when I see a good prospect. You need the patience of Job in this business. A lot of people lose patience and some quickly adopt their own final solution, finding places in the twilight economy. They adopt as their pen, the gun, and as their prime currency of exchange, violence. Others are more clever, taking to the world of cybercrime. The money count here can be incredibly high. So, sometimes, is the body count when you account for the occasional suicides and the vigilante slug. And they tar everyone with their brush, making it hard for people to do legitimate business. The government says it is fighting these poor-in-the-morning-rich-by-noon guys. Several of them now hibernate behind bars, each one charged with something with a name, with silk-clad barristers scurrying around and weaving ways and means to prove that not all the blood was purely red or noticeably thicker than water. Yet others, particularly in the lower Niger, from time to time take to a brand of violent monologue that gives a new name to nihilism – "youth restiveness". Still others in the upper Niger, now and again gyrate, calling God and prophet. This brand also has a name - "religious intolerance".
I then rushed to Ebute Metta train station and made enquiries about where to buy tickets as Sunny had advised me. Tickets are sold outside, on the platform, the ticket clerk informed me. I went to wait on the platform. While waiting, it occurred to me to leave the platform, go to the buka across the road, use the fares to eat a hearty meal, then go home, get under the covers and indulge in a little more slumber till the next cockcrow.
After waiting for about three-quarters of an hour, the attendant came to the platform and began selling the tickets. I could not buy because he had no change for my two hundred naira note. When I rummaged in my pockets and managed to excavate sixty naira in two 20's and four 10's, he would not accept the lot because he considered one of the 20's too damaged to be spent. Sunny had told me that it was unsafe to get inside the train without a ticket, as anyone who did, if fished out, was heavily fined. And there was a document pasted near the platform reminding anyone that cared to read that being caught inside the train without a ticket was an offence. It cited what I believe is a colonial-era ordinance.
I do not particularly like committing offences, neither did I crave any row with a civil servant inside the train. So when the train began to horn for takeoff and someone was raising a flag, I rushed inside to negotiate with another clerk about a ticket. He told me he had none, that I should hurry as the train was moving, that I could buy one inside. I ran to an open door of the moving train as they do in Hollywood movies and climbed aboard.
The first thing I noticed were the seats. The cushions were all in place and not a single one was torn. This was remarkable because it was a radical departure from the molue, those commodious relic buses which form part of the landmark of Lagos; or the molue's cousin, the danfo, which some wag once remarked you could get tetanus just by looking at. Most of the seats were empty and had a thick coat of dust. I dusted one and sat down. There was only one other person in the coach.
I kept looking out the window to ascertain where we were. When I saw Mushin I was surprised that this big, apparently dawdling, thing had covered that distance in so short a time. This is not your fast train with electric engines and all. This is the earlier generation type. The Ministry of Transport says it is arranging to bring in the modern ones. Of course, the egregious gridlock which is Lagos traffic does not have any jurisdiction over the area of locomotives. Which should have made this the transportation mode of choice in Lagos were it readily available.
When we got past Mushin, I thought I might make some effort to find the clerk to pay to. The money, including the disagreeable note, in hand, I got up and began to walk towards the rear of the long commodious hunk of metal. I was rocking as the train moved but I got on without much difficulty. The seats seemed to go on and on. The sheer size of the train had a sobering effect on me. I had never felt more minuscule. You know the kind of feeling you get when you see those horrible pictures of kids driven out of their homes and dying of starvation in southern Sudan, or a tearful woman in Peru with her nose half-eaten off by leishmaniasis. You tell yourself you have absolutely no right to whine about not having a job, or to gripe that your job is not good enough. On the other hand, you may feel some guilt about having so many big cars in your garage and living in such a big house with so many empty rooms. But in no time, of course, you go back to whining and griping.
Some coaches were entirely empty. Some had few occupants. This was clearly not a popular means of transportation. It was the coaches closer to the front that had more occupants than the others. I did not come across any official. I sat down in an empty coach and waited, money in hand. An elderly woman soon joined me, taking a seat a little further from me.
I caught sight of a wooden board through the window and tried to read what was written on it, but I had seen it too late. The other Saturday afternoon I was with my friend Hank, also a job seeker in the same sphere as me. Suddenly, I tapped him on the shoulder and pointed. "There, see that ad for secretary." He asked me how I saw a board so far away. I told him I could see them three streets away on a harmattan morning. Did he have his CV here? He was surprised at the question. He was more surprised when I unzipped the bag I was carrying and pulled out a copy of mine. I opened the bag and showed him more copies of it, writing papers, envelopes and a bottle of gum. The bag also contained a lightweight umbrella. Later he told me he saw an obnoxious ad. What he found appalling about the ad was that it said "Ability to work under pressure." What pressure did they want to put you under, he wondered. I smiled, pulled out a copy of my CV and, again with the airs of an all-knowing genius, showed him a line on the second page that reads, "Ability to work under pressure with little or no supervision." He was surprised I had it on my CV. Now Hank is very good at his job. But he has not been job-hunting as long as I have. And he lives with his sister, so bills do not pile for him. I daresay he will learn. But then I pray he does not. I know several folks who just walked out of the university and walked into a job. Hank has just gained admission to go back to the university.
Before we got to Oshodi, two attendants came up silently from behind me and asked for my "ticket, sir". I muttered that I wanted to buy, and let them see the money in my hand. One of them promptly shot out his hand and collected the cash, checked that it was complete and they moved on. I called after them for a ticket but got no response. I felt a qualm knowing the money would not go to the railway corporation, owners of the train, but into the spacious pockets of these two. Aware that I had just got away with an "offence" at my end, I had to live down my qualm.
The next bus stop - train stop - was at Agege. I felt sure Agege was before Alagbado so I did not stir. When the train stopped again, I peeped out the window and saw I was at Iju-Agege. I stayed put, since I was not going to Iju, and Agege was definitely before Alagbado. When the train stopped again, I looked out the window and saw we were right in the middle of a market. I began to crane my neck to see a signboard. By the time I saw one that told me where we were, the train was already moving.
Agbado, Ogun State!
That meant I was already outside Lagos. When I asked the attendant he confirmed my fears. Do I come down at the next station and find my way back? No, I should wait till they were coming back and then come down at the appropriate place. All the remaining stations were set inside a wilderness and there were about three or four of them before we got to the final stop.
People disembarked and many others began to come aboard through all the doors. The first person to enter my coach was a middle-aged man who dusted a seat, flopped into it and was asleep within minutes. An elderly woman then entered, soon followed by two twentyish girls, one of them chewing gum like I was. She was slim and fair in complexion. I remember her because she kept looking at me as if gum chewing was a fraternity. The coach was soon full of people and there was a babel of chatter in Yoruba. By now, I had changed position so that I would face forward when the train moved again. Two young men, obviously brothers, entered and took seats opposite mine. One of them mistakenly hit me with his bag and apologised in Yoruba, which I do not speak a word of. There were no written signs to tell me where I was so I asked one of them in pidgin what they call the place. Ijoko, I was told.
I will put the time we spent at Ijoko at a little over an hour - I did not bring my wristwatch out of my pocket. The strap had snapped some weeks before and thinking that the cost of replacing it could buy a few postage stamps for application letters, I was content to carry it around in my pocket.
During the wait at Ijoko I learnt something. When I was a kid someone had told me that trains had heads at both ends, since they could not turn around. But having seen several photos for myself, and then living near the Nigerian Railway Corporation headquarters and seeing trains at close range, I had realised this is not the case. I had always wondered, then, how a train commenced the reverse journey at the termination of one. So as soon as we had stopped I had kept my eyes open for this. It was not long before I saw the head of the train, which contains the engine that pulls the coaches, speed past us in a nearby track. I understood it instantly. The head moves in either direction. It had been detached and, by means of some purposely intersected tracks, was going to get in the other end of this one!
When the train started the reverse journey, I kept my eyes open. But that was not much help. We got past the bush stations and the train soon stopped at a market. I asked the two folks sitting across from me if this was Alagbado. They said yes, that was Agbado. I asked if that was the same thing as Alagbado. They said it was. I was out of the train in a flash. But I soon found I was at Agbado, Ogun State!
I decided to return to the train and come down at the next station. As I approached the train, I saw it start to move. I ran towards it but there was this heap of yams between me and the nearest open door. I decided to jump over the yams, but stopped myself in time - not only would that be impolite, it was likely to net me a stomachful of maledictions delivered in the Yoruba tongue and by a hundred mouths. Or I might break a taboo and end up being dragged before some ancient men to pay a fine to appease whatever god or ancestor I may have upset.
Having missed the train, I took stock of the situation. This place was Agbado, Ogun State. Those two had told me Agbado was the same as Alagbado. That must mean that Agbado community lies in both Lagos and Ogun States. That must mean I was not too far from the place I was going in Lagos.
I made enquiries as to how to get to Adura in Alagbado and was told to take an okada to Ijaiye and then connect with a bus going to Sango, and then come down at Adura bus stop. I found the motorcycle park after a search, but I had to wait a bit for the okadaman to find a second passenger.
As we were going I began to chew the situation over. I had to fault myself for not having tried to ascertain the specific station to get down. But Sunny had made it look like there is an Alagbado train station. And now all this trouble for what? What if these people did not even interview me? Or had the ad not specified some qualification I did not possess?
Here, along Agbado Road, on the way to Ijaiye, I had caught sight of the signboard of the computer school I had come to this part of the city to seek. I disembarked from the okada, paid off the cyclist and made my way to the signboard.
It took me a few minutes to ascertain that the computer school – or any other school - was nowhere around there. The board was just an ad! That is quite unusual, as signs are usually placed in the vicinity of the firm or the road leading to it.
I walked to a nearby shop and asked the boy how to locate Adura bus stop. He had a problem communicating in English, but he managed to tell me to walk along the road I was, take the first turning by the right and walk straight on. But his directions hardly sounded straight to me. I thanked him. I walked along to a phone kiosk with MTN splashed all over it and asked the girl sitting there. She advised me to take an okada or a tricycle to Ijaiye, get on the bus for Sango and disembark at Adura bus stop. She almost used the same words as the danfo driver I asked at Agbado Market.
As soon as I got back to the road I saw a tricycle approaching. I am not neophobic or that sort of thing, but I am hardly enamoured of these tricycles I see all over Lagos. They look so fragile and I have seen some of the handlers carry on with the same recklessness that their older cousin, the okada, has come to identify with. Like all the others in its present generation, this one was painted with the green-white-green national colours and had KEKE NAPEP written on it. Keke is a local word for bicycles - and tricycles - and NAPEP means National Poverty Eradication Programme. Before the set of politicians currently running the country come into power, they had promised a total war on poverty. As soon as they were sworn in, they launched PAP, or Poverty Alleviation Programme. But recently the programme was renamed NAPEP. Maybe poverty has now been alleviated for the most part and this tricycle is by way of the final onslaught to eradicate the monster from the land.
I did not wave down the keke as it already had three passengers in the passenger compartment. But seeing I was staring at them one of the passengers asked if I was going to Ijaiye, and the tricycle stopped without anyone waiting for my response. The fellow who spoke to me stood up and joined the cyclist in the front and I joined the remaining two at the back. I think the fellow was a pal of the cyclist's.
At Ijaiye, the first bus to come along was for Sango. As usual in a danfo, I squeezed myself into a tiny space and the bus took off. Oyero Street was right at Adura bus stop. When I entered the computer school premises, two youths sat watching television. I confirmed that was the place I sought and asked to see the person in charge. When they learnt I was for the "vacancy", they asked me to wait.
That is something you learn to do in this business. You are always asked to wait. Once I went to see this chap who runs a computer school not too far from my place. He asked me several questions once he learnt what I came for. Then he asked me to wait. Perhaps to be given a practical test. So I waited. It happened I needed to get to Sabo that morning to collect five hundred naira from a guy who had promised to lend me. As the time approached I became restless since I was down to my last ten naira. I got up and informed the director of studies that I needed to get to Sabo and come back. He looked at me as if he had never heard - or read in a book - of someone waiting to be interviewed for a job asking permission to go out. So he cried, "And you want a job!"
I went for my five hundred naira since I had a stomach to minister to that day and the job did look like, to use an Americanism, it was going to suck. When I came back, he was out of sight inside the premises and this time nobody even bothered to ask me to wait.
So I waited for the Alagbado director of studies. While waiting, I wondered how the interview would go. Interviewers can be out of this world. They will ask you the normal questions relating to your qualification. Some will then go further to ask all sorts of questions - the knotty, the fatuous, the mysterious and the discomfiting. There was one many years ago who asked me, "How old are you?" I said 20. "20 what?" he said, his voice full of lofty admonishment. Could it have been aeons? Or perhaps I looked 20 months old and he needed to make sure? I said years. And one once asked me, "What do you want a job for?" What? To have something to dole out to the Coalition Against Gender-based Violence! I said, "To enable me keep myself," and then added severely, "and to contribute my quota to the national development." That seemed to surprise him. Which surprised me. "National development?" he asked. I said, "Oh yes. It is businesses, whether small or medium or large that make for economic growth. When those who work play their parts well the nation is better for it." His next question had been "How old are you?" I told him. Was I married? No, I was not married. When did I plan to get married? Marry! Anyone who does that ought to get an award for guts! That was not what I said. I said, "I do not think about marriage at this time."
This one would want to know what teaching experience I had. They do not joke with experience.
Someone entered the reception. The person with the man I was waiting to see got out presently and to my mild dismay, the new entrant was ushered in, and I was smiled at and asked to please wait.
By the time I was called in about 30 minutes later, I was a little sorry to get up, having been sucked into a home video running on the telly. The heroine was at that moment trying to persuade the hero to commit murder to get his hands on some lucre. He was considering it when I left, priming myself like Hercules about to take on the hydra.
The office was lined with books on various subjects and the furnishing was of average quality. Its sixtyish occupant who looked conservative obviously liked his food and kept himself well. He did not ask any of those egregious questions. He collected my CV and my certificates, read them quickly, and gave me the school's prospectus opened to a particular page. He asked me to mark the subjects I was capable of handling. He said he asked that in case the need should arise for me to handle courses order than secretarial courses. I made 10 marks.
He asked a few questions about my work experience and proceeded to lay out the working conditions. "De good ting about dis job," he began with his heavy intonation, "is dat it goes wit accommondayson." Accommodation is a real thing around here for anyone who doesn't earn big bucks. I know of several people, including one junior lawyer, who sleep on their office tables - or underneath it. Landlords take advantage of the situation. If his daughter is getting married, better deliver a carton of Guinness stout, and if you have a car, make it available to convey people to the venue so that he will remember you well. And if you have just paid him in advance for two years and he is broke, be prepared to find him some money for about six months. You too are broke? Go rob a bank! You want to live in a house, not so?
So that opening line was meant to be a strategic selling point. "De reason for dat is because we do not want you to be hafing problems getting home after closing." That means you close very late, right? He continued and I listened, "We teach from 9AM till 4PM, and den from 5PM till 9PM. By 10 eferyone is gone. De second seson is mainly for workers who come in here after work. On Saturdays we hopen from morning till 2PM. Dere is not much work dat day. Wit de accommondayson we profide, closing late is not a problem because you do not hafe to come from afar. As for de salaray, we will not boast. For anyone of your lefel, for a start, we hoffer four." I asked if he meant four thousand. "Yes. You don't pay house rent or transportayson. De good ting about de job is de accommondayson we profide."
I have a place of my own. I love the place and it would take a lot to get me out of my Island Valley of Avallon, and this offer to bring me out to Alagbado was far from a lot. The monthly salary was a joke.
I had kept a straight face all along, but he must have read me. He said I could either tell him my mind now or get back to him. I said I would do the latter. He said I should do it quickly so that the space does not get taken up. He pointed to the mobile phone number on my CV and asked if I could be reached through that. The phone belongs to my cousin and the last time a job prospect called me on it he had forgotten to inform me. I said I could. What did it matter? I again told him I would get back to him and got up to leave. "You say you will get back to hus but you hafe not collected hour numbers." I apologised and took his phone numbers, and was out of there.
I could not contemplate trying to find the train station because I was too tired and had no idea what the schedule at that time of the day was. I made enquiries from a man as to how to get home from there. "You get to Oshodi, then take another bus."
I crossed the road and waited for nearly half an hour before a molue creaked to a stop. I had not entered a molue in a considerably long time, but that is because I do not come to this part of Lagos. This part of Lagos is molue town. Fortunately, the bus was not full, so I got a seat. The late Nigerian song genius Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was talking about the molue when he sang 49 Sitting 99 Standing in an album titled Shuffering and Shmiling.
Inside the molue, I brought my wristwatch out of my pocket and saw it was about 1:30. I had been hoping to be home by 2 so as to see the football match between Nigeria and Benin in the ongoing African Cup of Nations, the only thing everyone is talking about anywhere you go these days, even though it is also the time of Valentine, one of the newer Western imports drawing more and more followers each year, with every business trying to make the most of things. The other day I saw an ad saying that to express love at Valentine you ought to be able to kiss properly, and to do that you needed fresh breath and to get that you needed this toothpaste. But these efforts, together with those of the FM stations, the fast food outlets and others with more commercial interest in Valentine than football to centralise Valentine have had little success. Even MTN, the big mobile phone company which normally eats up every festival with a spoon, has been too busy concentrating on the African mundial to have any space left on its plate for the Valentine fad. Almost every Nigerian is a football expert and my co-commuters were in the spirit. "Did you see what Zimbabwe did to Algeria? There are no minnows in African football any longer." "Did you saw Okocha in our last match? I tells you that guy is too much. For a man to go and be captain of white people in their own land!" "Na who God say go win go win." "That loss to Morocco was due to the poor way the coach organised the attack." "We should not allow that 4-nil thrashing of South Africa to make us too complacent. Small teams like Benin are the real dangers!"
It was the dry season and Oshodi was not muddy. I entered another molue, also getting a seat. When all the seats were taken I was surprised the driver did not wait to pick "99 standing". I wondered if the government had been getting tough with that sort of thing lately. Maybe there had been a major incident, since it was only after the death of around 800 people in an overloaded boat in Senegal last year, followed by outcry from the press, that the government moved in to stop the boats that cross from Apapa to Lagos Island from overloading.
The cost of returning home by molue was almost the same as that of going by train. I really liked Sunny for that. But it was a good experience, my first train ride. I had a view of the city you do not get from buses. It was almost like taking a helicopter ride.
Between Oshodi and my destination my mind dwelt on the interview I just attended. Four thousand naira! A joke. Did that aging capitalist really mean to work someone from 9AM till 10PM and pay them four thousand naira? I remembered the advertisement, "Teachers' Reward Now in America." But that is so far away! And these trains only go the bush stations. There are none that go to the Bush country yet, and from what one hears, the airlines are pretty thorough. It would be hard to get in one without a ticket.
As I approached my home, the sun was shining overhead, unimpressed with my manifold experiences. When I got home there was no power, thanks to NEPA. When NEPA strikes, which may be 24 times a day, you do not hold your breath because it rarely lasts one minute, sometimes lasts one hour, often lasts one day and not too rarely lasts one month. Although the sun blazed overhead and the breeze blew outside, my home was dark and hot. But once I opened the windows I had sufficient light and breeze.
I still have the other window to worry about, though. Maybe someone will restore power but it sure is surer to find the latch on my own. I am on it.